Back to School Basics: Guidance for Parents Navigating an Uncertain School Year

Back to School Basics: Guidance for Parents Navigating an Uncertain School Year

By Talya Kook, PsyD

As the new school year arrives, let’s take a collective breath. Parents, whatever you did to get this far, you are heroes and I am congratulating you. And now I am giving you a pep talk, because here we go again, AND you got this.

The one thing we have all learned thus far is that we don’t know exactly how things will play out over this time. That’s okay! Tolerating uncertainty is a skill that we are all universally practicing. Might I add, in very real time (ie; as this blog is about to be completed comes the latest news from NYC that school openings are now delayed ten more days). Another collective breath. You still got this.

One of the best ways to deal with overwhelming fears of the unknown is to return to the present moment. So, as you embark on the new school year (whenever and whatever that looks like!), here are some ideas to focus on in the here and now.

Routine: Kids of all ages thrive with a routine. This includes:

    • Consistent bed/wake times and meal times, morning and night routines
    • Scheduled Breaks. Decide and discuss before school starts what break times will look like (screen time, exercise, indoor activities, social activity) and incorporate them into the routine.
    • At home, a visual schedule can be helpful for all family members to see the important information of the day, which can be reviewed the night before.

Disclaimer: This will not be perfect, nor is that the expectation. Every hour does not need to be accounted for. Think about what you can implement realistically and consistently.

Prep and Practice: Kids who are returning to a physical building will be adjusting to a school that is different from what they have known.

    • Learn as much as you can about your specific school’s plan. Spend time talking with your child and preparing them for what the school day will be like, what will be different.
    • For those returning into school buildings, discuss and practice hygiene (mask wearing, hand washing) and social distancing.
    • Some nervousness about returning to school during this time is to be expected. Talk with your child about their worries and let them know all the precautions being taken to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Transparency. We established that while there are some things that we can prepare for, there is still a lot of uncertainty. It’s okay to be honest with your child that you are not sure what will happen in the months ahead. Emphasize focusing on what is happening in the moment, rather than on the ‘what ifs‘ of the future. It is most important to express to your child that no matter what changes do occur during the year, that the family will work together to make a new, safe plan.

Conversation. Make time regularly to have age-appropriate, open conversations about how things are going and how everyone is feeling. Sometimes, simply validating your child’s emotions is enough. This is done by recognizing and accepting that their feelings are understandable. This is also an excellent opportunity to model healthy coping. Children look to their parents to gauge their own emotional reactions. How you manage your emotions matters. Do your best to remain calm and grounded.

Recharge. There are a lot of adjustments and transitions happening! Even on the best day this can still be exhausting. For everyone.

    • Think of emotional energy as a battery. What is needed to recharge it? For kids, this might mean seeing friends (in person, on-screen), getting some exercise, or quality time as a family.
    • Most of us also need some quiet time to recharge. Encourage your kids to have some down time to themselves (without screens). Brainstorm together about what makes them feel calm and have a couple of options they can choose from.
    • Parents are equally encouraged to recharge! Pencil in time for social support, self-care and relaxation. This is imperative for your own well-being and allows you more emotional bandwidth both as a parent and a human.

We are all trying to figure out how to get through these days of uncertainty, and between coronavirus fears, racial injustice, wildfires, hurricanes, and political polarization it is challenging to stay centered.

As parents, it’s important to keep expectations realistic, plan with the information currently available to you and do your best to stay present in the moment. Above all, remember, you got this!

If you’re looking for more supportive suggestions for handling the stress of school reopening, join our upcoming Pandemic Parenting webinar, led by 3 child psychologists on Sept. 10 at 6:30 pm: Pandemic Parenting, 5 Ways to Support your child during Remote Learning. A recording will be provided if you cannot join us live.

If you or your child are finding the anxiety overwhelming, you don’t need to struggle on your own. We have child and adult psychologists and psychiatrists available to help. CONTACT US