For those of us who had to deal with back-to-school, this week has been unusual to say the least. Many schools scrambled to communicate their back-to-school strategies with parents, and parents scrambled to make sure their kids were prepared for the first day back. Let’s face it, back-to-school shopping was a whole new ballgame this year!
Masks in place, books in hand, and details on where to go to line up aside, there were likely many complex feelings on the continuum of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, stress beneath the typical back-to-school elation and excitement. So how did it go?
Debriefing on the transition week is an important step to support moving forward and finding the routine. Taking the time to reflect on what went well, and what didn’t go as anticipated can help to process some of those complex feelings. This reflection can help identify the successes, even the smallest ones, and reframe the way we process the transition to support developing a positive self-concept for our kids. Here are a few tips to help with this reflection and self-concept building process:
Ask questions: Beyond how did it go, ask specific questions to help open the conversation… but remember, this is not a test! By asking about specific people, times of day, and strategies, we can help our kids find the words to open up more. Who did they talk to at lunch time? Who did they sit beside in class? For kids returning to school, what was different about the classroom? Were there breaks during the day? Did they play any games?
Actively listen: Allow kids to guide the discussion and take the time to really listen – to their hopes and their concerns. Help them to unpack their feelings by probing with empathy; acknowledge the feeling – by simply saying “that sounds amazing,” or “that sounds really tough,” to even “ugh, that sucks”. It is important to validate the feelings and let our kids feel heard.
Strategize collaboratively: Allow time for kids to process their feelings, and when they seem to be ready to talk, reconnect on any issues or concerns that came out of the reflection. Try to do this in a collaborative and conversational way – maybe take a walk, or while playing a game together, so the focus is not intensely on the topic. Do they have ideas to help them to deal with the concern/situation differently next time?
Strategize with the school: For kids who are experiencing heightened stress at school, you may want to speak with their teacher or the school administration to help find ways to support your child’s needs. Find out if there is a way for them to take a break from the situation, or if there is someone they can ask to speak with during the day to allow them to remove themselves from the stressful situation.
Having supportive conversations like these will help kids learn to share their experiences and build their self-esteem, and also foster deeper connections and trust.
While getting back into the school routine may be challenging, remember that routines can be incredibly helpful for mental wellness. Routines can help with cognitive development, enhance the sense of belonging, promote abilities to adjust, and predictability can also act as a buffer against stress.
For Children: A sweet video where “Experts” share tips on return to school
For Youth: A back-to-school checklist during COVID-19
For Caregivers: Tips on taming your back-to-school worries
For Educators: Head back to school with ‘4 Be’s‘ for mental health