You spent months drilling the importance of social distancing and hand sanitizing into your kids, all the while explaining why playdates and the park were off-limits. Now, suddenly, they're expected to go outside and interact with their peers all day. If your kids are feeling a little (or a lot) nervous about going back to class, it's more than understandable. That's why it's important to know how to prepare your child for in-person school, especially after they've been told how dangerous it was to leave the house. It might take a little patience, but ultimately you will be able to ease their minds — and maybe even get them excited for their return.
"Parents should be aligned with each other and clear about their own levels of comfort," regarding the return to school, licensed psychologist Han Ren, Ph.D., tells Romper in an email. "This allows children to see parents model problem solving and feel reassurance that there are safety measures in place." When you're planning out how to talk to your kid about this transition, whether alone or with a partner, the first thing you'll want to do is collect your own thoughts and determine your narrative.
You'll also want to have as much information as possible on what school will look like for your kids. Things like drop off and pickup, lunchtime, and the general setup of their classroom might be different so you'll want to prepare them for it. "Knowing what to expect and what will be the same is the biggest help in easing children’s anxiety," psychotherapist Ilyse Kennedy, LPC, tells Romper via email. She also stresses the importance reminding your child that the changes are to help keep them safe and healthy.
Additionally, parents should highlight the things that won't change. "Emphasize what will be the same as their time in school before COVID and the same as distance learning, while lightly preparing for what will be different," says Kennedy.
After you've had a sit-down talk about their return to in-person school, Dr. Ren suggests finding ways to get your kid excited about it.
"Prepare them in the way they would prepare for any back-to-school year, ask them what they're excited about," she says, "allow them to be part of the count down process."
When it's time to return, parents can help ease feelings of worry by finding ways to give their kids a sense of control.
"Letting them choose what they wear each day, what they have for breakfast, what will go in their lunch," are all ways to help make things less overwhelming, says Kennedy.
"Provide choices when possible, there's so little that kids can control these days," Dr. Ren agrees. "These include things like what type of mask they want to wear, allow them to pick their own prints and styles, whether they want to take a 'first day of school' photo or not, etc."
Most importantly, you'll need to practice patience with your child.
"Expect a difficult transition period that may include strong emotions, irritability, testing of limits, push-back, rigidity, and clinginess," says Dr. Ren. "Be patient with your child and sit with them through the 'bad' behaviors to understand what is beneath them," Kennedy advises.
Ilyse Kennedy, LPC, LMFT, PMH-C, therapist specializing in trauma from childhood to adulthood
Han Ren, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, licensed specialist in school psychology