How will the past year be known in history books? The COVID year? The year of social isolation? The year the kids didn’t go to school? And what will the long term effects be? No one can know that yet.
I’m sure some kids must have thrived in virtual school or at least stayed at status quo. But for many, virtual school was stressful…emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and physically. There were technology challenges, lack of peer interaction, limited quality interaction with teachers, general confusion and a lot of uncertainty. It all took a toll on parents as well. In a CDC survey, almost half of all parents reported increased levels of stress and nearly a quarter of them said their drug or alcohol use had increased and/or they were having trouble sleeping. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As we inch closer and closer to our new normal and get ready to send our kids back to school full-time, how do we prepare them? How do we prepare ourselves? What are the good parts of returning to school after a long absence, and what are the challenges?
The best part (for most kids) will be the opportunity to be with their friends regularly and have one-on-one face time with their teachers. This will not be the case for all kids, however, as the past year (for some) has created anxiety related to being back in a crowded classroom.
Another great benefit of re-opening schools is having the opportunity to participate in sports again. If this is an outlet for your kid, they may really be missing the opportunity to keep themselves physically and mentally balanced. I know this is true for my kids and we have done everything we can to supplement the lack of sports over the past year….but it was still a huge loss and took its toll on the whole family.
Having improved structure is something kids can get when they are present in school every day. They are held accountable in a different way when they are physically present and it’s harder to hide when you’re front and center in a classroom with a teacher nearby. Granted, I have teenagers so I’m speaking from that perspective!
Kids of all ages may not rush back to school with the same energy and excitement we might have hoped for. It’s important to realize that this transition back to “regular” school has been a long time coming. They have gotten used to a different kind of life and readjusting to full-time school may be accompanied by some anxiety and questions.
There is also historical evidence showing mental health problems related to social isolation can last years after the event has ended. Parents should stay alert to their child’s psychological well-being even if it has never been an issue before. Things to look out for would include: difficulty sleeping or too much sleep, lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment in their usual activities and uncharacteristic irritability. Try your best to be present, predictable and consistent. You might be the only area of their lives that feels that way right now.
If your child’s grades slipped during the pandemic, it may take some time for them to regulate. It may also take time for them to get back on track socially. Any socializing may feel awkward for a while. What’s more, nearly everyone’s routines look different than they did before COVID. Sleep cycles are off. Meal habits may have shifted. Routines will have to change again to coincide with in-person school. Parent and child will need to set realistic goals and expectations with the understanding that finding your new groove will take some time.
The more you can plan ahead as a family, the more it will alleviate any anxiety your child may have and will instill in him or her the confidence needed to move forward. You may also discover that the fears you think your child has are really just your own and that your child is more excited than nervous and is really looking forward to seeing people again in person and learning in the classroom environment.
Good luck to all! Here’s to a smooth transition and the greatest “back to school” season ever!