Being Me: Back to School & Back to ME!
Back 2 Me!
It’s been more than a year since COVID-19 upended the lives of millions of students around the globe. While most students face challenges related to mental health, figuring out how the new learning environment works, and economic uncertainty, it may take some time to understand the complete impacts on their lives.
For students, in general, attending schools during the pandemic was a whole new experience. Schools offered virtual learning and new practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There is still some uncertainty about how the closure of schools affected students’ achievements and the ultimate impact on them from the rapid conversion of in-person learning to online platforms. Studies show some students did just fine during the virtual learning process, which didn’t go well for others. Many parents and teachers found signs of improvement in students, whereas most students missed peer-to-peer connection and the physical learning environment they needed to thrive.
With mass vaccination in progress, in progress, many parents are looking forward to getting their kids back to in-person learning. Although we still need to follow the safety precautions, we’re all hoping for the last year to be a distant memory.
Steps to Keep Kids Safe
Schools have a big responsibility to take all possible safety measures to keep children, teachers, and other staff safe. To ensure everyone’s health, the following are some safety recommendations:
● COVID-19 Vaccine:
Adults and children over 12 – all currently eligible for COVID vaccination – should get immunized before school starts.
● Physical Distancing:
Students should maintain a minimum distance of 3 feet in classrooms. In general, people who are not fully vaccinated should have a distance of at least 6 feet. However, several studies during this period show a low transmission rate with less than 6 feet distance in schools – when other safety precautions are observed. Schools should use outdoor spaces whenever possible. Using outdoor spaces for meals and other instructions is a safe option.
● Face Masks:
Everyone – kids and adults – should wear a face mask that covers the nose and mouth. This is one of the simplest and proven tools to protect students who didn’t get the vaccine.
Everyone should wear a mask correctly and consistently that fits well. It is effective protection, and it is safe to wear a mask for a more extended period, such as during a school day.
Even with medical conditions, children can wear a mask effectively with practice, support, and above all, role-modeling adults.
Schools should offer to screentest children who are not vaccinated, especially when there are higher COVID cases in the community. Screening also provides an additional safety precaution to schools where recommended physical distancing is not possible.
● Classroom Routine:
To help a limited interaction between students, schools need to consider:
- Fewer classes in a day can assist in limiting the cross-over of teachers and students.
- Allow kids to have their lunch at the desk or in small groups outdoors. As facemasks are removed for eating, it is best to keep unvaccinated students at least 6 feet apart.
- Leaving the classroom doors open to reduce the touch surfaces.
- As long as the weather and air quality allow, open doors and windows for improved air quality.
- To enhance the outdoor air circulation, strategically locate fans as it helps in promoting circulation and decreasing stagnant air.
Back to School Anxiety in Students
Since the pandemic and schools suspended in-person learning, students spend most of their time with their families. Now, when it is time to head back to classrooms, many kids are facing unfamiliar challenges.
Most students face a significant challenge with anxiety concerning being separated from their families after spending months together. It is an additional feeling to the fear of leaving their safe haven from COVID-19.
According to Jennifer Louie, a psychologist at Child Mind Institute, kids have become used to being with their parents at home. They consider their homes a place where they are safe from the pandemic. She further added that the kids who loved to go to school before COVID also find it stressful to get separated from their families.
Kids are now too familiar with the practice of observing social distancing, using masks and sanitizers, washing their hands, and not getting too close to anyone – even their best friends. As the back-to-school time approaches, what are they thinking? Is it safe to go back to school? Is everyone safe out there? These are real fears that many parents also have. Additionally, parents fear that in-person schooling can get suspended again if it leads to another COVID-19 outbreak.
In younger kids, parents are observing increased anxiety about leaving their homes and going back to school. Kids have been out of their routine of going to school for so long that anxious behavior is understandable. This time, kids might take more than a little longer to adjust to the changed routine and adapt their hybrid learning schedules.
Alternatively, some students are very excited about going back to school after being stuck for months at home. They are anxiously waiting to meet their friends and enjoy the engagement level they’ve been missing all this time. Parents have to deal with this complicated matter – all the anxiety and uncertainty – very carefully. They have to assure kids that it is safe to be away from them (as normal) while encouraging them to follow all the pandemic safety measures. They also have to mentally prepare their kids for any changes in the situation due to possible outbreaks of COVID-19.
What are the possible ways parents can console their kids and prepare them for back to school?
● Show Empathy
It’s okay to be worried about your kids and their feelings when they are fearful about going back to school since they are so used to being in their comfort zone (home). However, as parents, you need to stay positive and calm. Have a discussion with your kids and let them express their feelings and fears. Show empathy and encourage them to speak about how they feel about going to school after so long. It would help if you give them a way to express themselves, but instead of emphasizing too much, provide them with strength and, most of all, CONFIDENCE.
If your kids say they will miss you, validate their feelings and tell them you’ll miss them too, and you are so proud of them for going back to school.
● Work with Them and Set the Tone:
The most important thing about catering to kids’ anxiety is how parents lead the situation. If you lead with your fears and anxiety, you are only adding fuel to their anxiety.
So, what you need to do is answer their questions and tell them what you know. To act calm is the key, even if you are not.
Avoid questions that indicate your doubts. For instance, don’t ask them if they are feeling nervous about going to school. This question will give a hint to your child that there is something to worry about.
If your kid asks a question that you can’t answer, be honest; tell them that you’ll try to find out the answer even though you are not sure. Kids appreciate your efforts in trying to manage the situation. Answering their questions could help keep them calm and inspire them to handle the situation.
● Motivate them to Think Positive:
You can help your kids overcome anxiety by helping them think positively. For younger kids who are worried about being separated from you, discussing how you will spend time with them when they come back is always helpful.
Another way is to help your kid focus on positive things about school. Talk to them about things they should be looking forward to. What do they think they’ll do when they meet their friends?
According to Dr. Louie, a transitional object is also helpful with which kids feel connected with their home. A transitional object could be anything that your child can take to school – preferably small enough to put in a pocket and is not too distracting. It is a piece of their home, something from a caregiver that makes them feel better.
● Practice Separation:
For younger kids, practicing separation is also helpful. Start separations for a short time period and lead them towards independence by building tolerance.
A good way to start practicing to live separately is by asking your kid to play in the room while you cook dinner in the kitchen. Or letting them spend some time with another caregiver while both mom and dad are outside. These small steps help you prepare your child for going to school without worrying so much about separation.
● Set a Routine:
As back-to-school time approaches, set a routine that can help your kid with their upcoming school daily routine. It makes kids, especially younger ones, feel more secured and relaxed.
It also helps in taking out the feeling of uncertainty.
For younger kids, practicing separation and setting a routine sometimes might not help them overcome the fear of leaving you behind for school. In this case, coordination with your kid’s teacher could be helpful. Set a plan with the teacher beforehand, so you know when the teacher will step in to engage your kids at the drop-off time. As soon as you get a signal from the teacher that things are under control, you can cheer them up, say goodbye, and you’ll be back to pick your child up soon. Usually, kids get better as they become more engaged in routine activities of a school day. So, you don’t need to draw out your goodbyes.
Also, carpooling with another child can help your kid feel better. It is a good idea to try different processes to find the one that works the best for your child and you.
● Stress Upon the Safety Measures:
It’s not wise to promise kids that we won’t get sick; we should emphasize the safety measures we need to follow. You can also explain various steps the school has taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and express your confidence in them. Assuring your younger kids that everyone is doing their best to fulfill their duties to keep things healthy would help restore their confidence. You can also assure them that schools will not open unless they are going to be careful.
It is much easier to explain the concept of acceptable risk to older kids. You can clarify that we can never be 100% sure that we will not get sick, but it is essential to take small risks to do important things.
● Try to be Flexible:
Since things are not clear yet, kids who start attending school physically may need to switch back to remote learning. Even if it would be for a small period, it is helpful to prepare your kids for this change. Discuss the possibilities of things getting riskier, and authorities may decide to switch to remote learning again. Tell them, in that case, it would be safer to stay at home.
● Don’t Hesitate and Get Help:
Often kids get adjusted to a school routine within a couple of weeks. Even younger kids who might have a hard time separating from you usually are set with support from teachers and you.
However, if the melt-downs remain constant for you at the drop-off or it remains severe, seeking professional help can make a big difference. A therapist will work with your child and help you plan and execute a step-by-step way to practice separation.
Sometimes, therapists work with teachers to see how they can help the child and ensure they are on the same page with parents. Professional help also enables anxious kids to talk themselves out of difficult situations through reassurance.
In some cases, kids hesitate to go back to school because they feel much more relaxed at home. Students with social anxiety, who were bullied at school, or have some learning disorder had a better time at home to pursue things at their own pace. A therapist can help make things better by identifying the issue that needs work.
COVID and Bullying:
As the time to get back to school approaches, many kids’ and their parents’ concerns about being bullied at school increase. Children don’t feel safe going back to school because they don’t want to face bullying again. Bullying can have the worst possible effects on a child’s mental health. It can not only lead to low self-esteem, various health problems, and poor grades but also suicidal thoughts.
Most children who had to suffer bullying in one form or another at school found the remote learning time a blessing. In many cases, children have shown positive progress in studies while away from bullies, in their safe haven.
As a parent, talk to your children about how they should stand up for themselves and make good friends. It is a difficult process. You can seek help from a therapist who works with teachers, school administration, and students to help bullied kids feel less isolated and safe. Remain calm and help your children through support and reassurance by explaining that they are not at fault. Encourage them to open up and talk to you so you can readily console them.
Teach your kids how to tackle a problem if they get stuck in such a situation. Discuss some safety strategies like walking away, going to a coach or teacher, or find a safe place. The most important thing is to nurture your child’s self-esteem and encourage them to report any bullying to you, teachers, and school administration.
For more support on anti-bullying, check out our awesome anti-bullying blog: A Time to Fight Back!
Returning to school after COVID-19 has taken a new set of worries for students, parents, and other caregivers. Some students feel troubled leaving their parents for school, whereas some parents still wonder if schools are safe for their kids.
While schools are taking precautions to make the environment safer, help your children get over the anxiety and prepare them to restart in-person learning. Going back to in-person learning seems like a difficult decision for some kids. As parents, you have a crucial role in your child’s daily life. Try the approaches mentioned above to get yourself and your kids ready to get back to school. Let’s have an awesome year!
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