Keeping your cool while heading back to school
August heat often brings memories of swimming, firing up the BBQ, and heading back to school. However, this summer may seem different after a year of distance or hybrid learning. Some children may feel anxious about returning to in-person classes. This could be due to separation anxiety, concerns about health and safety, or simply fearing the change that naturally comes from transitions.
How can children (and parents) keep their cool while heading back to school after more than a year of a pandemic? Below are tips for parents to help prepare their children for in-person learning.
Develop healthy routines
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted children’s lives and sense of normalcy. Research suggests that children who were in virtual or hybrid learning settings may be at more at risk for negative impacts on their emotional and physical well-being. These children may need more support during the transition back to school. Developing healthy routines is one way to bring more safety and stability in your child’s life.
First, developing routines that support children’s health and well-being can help them stay physically and emotionally resourced. These can include:
- Getting adequate sleep (8 to 10 hours a night) and establishing a consistent bedtime routine that is tech-free
- Being physically active for at least 60 minutes a day, 3 days a week
- Eating healthy, well-balanced meals that include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Complex carbohydrates
- Limited amounts of added sugar and processed foods
A healthy routine also includes quality time with family. Even when parents work schedules start to heat up, it’s important to carve out time with children to acclimate them to the new school day structure and make sure they don’t fall behind on school work. Additionally, creating time for meaningful play can foster the bond with children and help them feel more secure. Activities such as movie night, outdoor play, exploring nature, and board games can help kids relax, have fun, and feel connected to their parents.
Stay in communication with school leaders
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Parents aren’t the only trusted adults interacting with children. Teachers, principals, counselors, coaches, PTA volunteers – there are many people who take an active, daily role in children’s lives. When parents communicate with these trusted adults, it can help strengthen the network of support for children.
Speaking with a school counselor can help parents stay informed about any challenges that their children may be facing – both emotionally and academically. Parents can also encourage their children to seek out trusted adults, like school counselors, when they are having a hard time at school. It’s also helpful for parents to know what health and safety protocols the school is using. This may mean the continued use of masks for children who are not yet eligible for vaccination, frequent sanitizing, daily screenings, physical distancing, or separating children into cohorts.
Knowing the protocols can help children be better prepared when school starts. It can also help them establish boundaries that help them feel safe, such as keeping a mask on if it makes them feel more comfortable, even if other kids are taking theirs off. Staying in communication with the school and sharing new rules and routines with children can help young people make the transition easier.
Prioritize children’s health and well-being
For many, just getting through the day during the pandemic may have felt like a win. Now that vaccination rates are rising, it’s important to shift attention back on everyday things people do to stay healthy. For children, that may mean focusing on mental health and making sure immunizations are up to date.
Mental health is vital to overall well-being and can be a key component to helping children transition successfully back to school. Parents can help by validating the feelings children may be expressing. By encouraging children to express their feelings, without fear of being judged, it opens the lines of communication and builds trust. Parents can even set up a weekly time for children to talk freely about worries and anxieties, which can help them feel seen and less alone.
If children are experiencing more severe symptoms of mental distress, parents may want to find a mental health professional to help support their children. Blue Shield’s BlueSky program is a collaborative community effort that offers mental health services for youth in many schools in Alameda County and San Diego. The BlueSky website also provides links to mental health resources for youth, educators, and parents.
During the pandemic, preventive care may have taken a backseat for many people. With COVID-19 rates waning and schools re-opening, it’s important that children get up to date on their immunizations – especially since many schools and states require updated immunization records. Whether for school or extracurricular activities, making sure children are updated on their immunizations can help keep them stay safe against many infectious diseases and allow for a smoother transition back to the school year.
This year has been tough on everyone, especially children and parents. Acknowledging vulnerability and asking for support is not a sign of weakness, but strength. By developing healthy routines, staying in communication with school leaders, and prioritizing health and well-being, parents are accessing the vital resources they need to help them and their children transition easefully to the school year – and build a brighter and better future for everyone.
Children don’t need to feel alone and neither do you. If you need support for health-related issues,* call NurseHelp 24/7SM toll free at (877) 304-0504 (TTY: 711). Services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
*In case of emergency, always call 911 immediately.