Parents of school-aged children were thrown into a whole new experience of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, teachers and parents have had to adjust to full online learning from their homes, to a hybrid schedule, and then back to full-time, in-person learning again. Not only did this throw a wrench in children’s normal schedules, but parents had to adjust their schedules as well. Now that we are heading into the 2021 school year, do parents (and children) really know what to expect? What changes have taken place and how can you and your child prepare for the year ahead?
Every new school year, children face the typical jitters of having a new teacher, new classroom, and making new friends. There might even be some added stress this year if your child did not previously transition back to a full-time, in-person schedule. Due to all the changes that have taken place over the last year, your child may also face some social or separation anxiety from their families. So, what can you do as a parent to help ease these anxieties?
Validate your child’s feelings. This includes having open discussions about their concerns, while being mindful of their age and maturity level. They may have questions or reservations about transitioning to an in-person classroom.
Stay calm and have a positive attitude. You are your child’s role model, which means they are observing how you handle stress. By displaying patience and positivity, you can help guide them to have the same attitude about the situation.
Set family routines. Some children’s anxiety may be separation related after spending so much time at home. Creating regular routines that are dedicated to family activities may ease separation anxiety. Some examples include:
Game night (indoor and outdoor games)
Family dinner at the table
Creative time (crafts, art projects, etc.)
Each child handles anxiety and stress differently, so don’t feel discouraged if the first suggestion doesn’t work. Pay attention to your child’s strengths to help find the best solution for them.
Getting into Routine
Getting your family back into routine after summer break can be a headache. Implementing regular routines at least two weeks before the first day of school can help make a smoother transition. Here are five tips to make the transition easier:
Set specific times to eat meals and go to bed. Setting a morning routine of eating breakfast and getting dressed by a certain time is a great start. This will help your child establish how much time they have to get ready before heading off to school. Be sure to allow extra time in their schedule, that way they don’t feel rushed on busier days.
Plan your child’s after-school routines like childcare, extra-curricular activities, or where and when they should study.
Supervise and limit screen time. Decreasing this can help alleviate eye exhaustion. If your child has assignments on a computer, recommend breaks to relieve strain on their eyes and neck.
Let your child pick a planner or calendar they are excited about. Assist with writing out their schedule for the coming weeks or months. Don’t forget to sync their calendar with the rest of the family schedule.
Leave time for fun! It’s important to have a balance between schoolwork and play to help promote healthy study habits. This can include your child playing with a friend, or spending time with the whole family.
Planning School Lunches
Along with the regular routines you implement for the new school year, you must also decide on the best lunch system for your child. While considering the family budget, you can either pack your child’s lunch or choose to have their lunch provided by the school. When making this decision, consider the following:
If you decide that you would like your child to eat school lunches, there are options to apply for reduced lunch programs, if needed. You could also plan for your child to eat a certain number of school-provided lunches each week and bring a lunch from home on other days. For example, they may take a bagged lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and eat school lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
If you decide to prepack your child’s lunch, feel free to let them be involved in making their lunch with you. This can help take stress off you, while letting them feel like they are a part of the decision-making process. To alleviate some stress in the morning routine and to save time, meal prep on the weekends and freeze lunches for later in the week.
Evaluating Transportation Options
One of the last steps to get ready for the new school year is picking the best form of transportation for your child to get to and from school. Transportation options include riding the bus, walking, riding their bike, or being dropped off by an adult. To help you and your child feel comfortable with their transportation options, here are some tips to help prepare them:
If they opt to walk or bike to school, take the route with them a couple of times to get them used to it. While on the path notice if there are any other children who would take this route with them and encourage a buddy system.
If you choose to have your child take the bus, show them where the pickup location will be and establish the best time to leave home to make the bus. Most importantly, don’t forget to discuss bus safety with your child.
If you plan to be the primary source of transportation for your child, or if there would be a situation where they miss the bus, don’t forget to establish a backup plan for all circumstances. Having a clearly defined back up plan with your child will ensure they return home safely and don’t ride home with a stranger.
Finally, don’t forget to take time for yourself. Try to schedule a small block of time each week to check in on your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Don’t stress about the little things - enjoy the year to come and relax. Take a deep breath, you’ve got this!