Yupiiii! September is here and that means back to school season again. It comes with excitement and anxiety simultaneously; especially for young children if they are starting school for the very first time, but also for older children, back to school comes with lots of changes. For parents it translates into plenty of decision-making such as “how many after school activities should my child attend?”, “Will my child need a cell phone?”, “What should I pack every day for snack?”, “School lunch or home lunch?”
Heading back to school this year will be an even bigger transition than usual for most families due to the current, on-going pandemic. Students will feel more anxious than usual because the virus has kept them from attending school in person last year. So, expect more apprehension from your child. Moving up a grade, new teachers, new peers, more academic demands, establishing new routines might be more complicated now, than it was during the pre-COVID era. Being patient, understanding and checking your own feelings are some suggestions to navigate this period. Often children sense their parents' feelings. If there is any doubt, discomfort or hesitation in you, your child will pick up on those feelings and most probably will feel unhappy and distressed. The good news is however that a little bit of preparation and forethought can make these first weeks of school easier for your kids and yourself.
- Understand and follow school protocol regarding COVID prevention and discuss them with your child. If necessary, practice with them at home and listen to their frustrations and worries with compassionate ears.
- Facilitate your child’s bonding with the teacher. All kids need to feel connected to their teacher to feel comfortable in the classroom before they start flourishing academically. Statements such as “Ms. Rosa is a great teacher. I am sure you will get along very well and learn much this academic year”, assist in creating healthy bonds between students and teachers.
- Facilitate bonding with the other kids. When children know any of the other kids, they’ll feel more at ease and enjoy school days better. When possible, facilitate play dates with peers and encourage social interactions.
- Ensure enough sleep for both - you and your children. Most kids begin staying up late in the summer months. Pre-schoolers need about 10 to 13 hours of sleep each night depending on their age and individual physiology. Getting kids back on schedule so they’re well rested for school takes a couple of weeks of gradually moving their bedtime earlier, so it is recommended that you initiate this routine some weeks before school starts. Good sleep hygiene, from going to bed at the same time each night to creating a calm environment to keeping phones and devices out of the bedroom, is often passed down to kids from their parents. Working on sleep routines is a lesson for outside the classroom that can benefit your kid's time in the classroom. Get your child back on an early-to-bed schedule well before school starts.
- The day before school starts let your child know the exact routine which will be taking place; it helps to generate a comfortable mental movie. “We’ll get up early tomorrow for your first day in Ms. Rosa’s class. We will drive there together and she will be waiting for you outside the gate and I will introduce you to her. She will make sure you know all the other kids, because they will be your new friends. I will then hug you and say our special goodbye. Ms. Rosa will take you to the block corner so you can build a tower. Ms. Rosa will show you where the bathroom is, and you can ask her anytime you need to go. There will be games and books and blocks, and she will read to the class. You will get to have fun on the playground with the other kids, and you will get to sit at a desk like the big kids. And at the end of the day, Ms. Rosa will bring you to me at the gate, and I will be there to pick you up and hear all about your first day at school”.
- Practice saying goodbye. For many children, the biggest challenge will be saying goodbye to you. Role play and practice this part often at home - try to make it fun and initiate a kind of ritual/routine, such as a hug and a say like “I love you, you love me, have a great day and I’ll see you at 3!”
- Let your child choose his /her own school supplies whether from around your house or from the store, making your child part of the process builds responsibility and awareness of what is about to come.
Separation anxiety is defined by The Raising Children Network as a child’s “common and normal fear of being away from their parents or caregivers” and it is considered a normal part of childhood development in early years. Generally speaking, it fades away naturally but unknown circumstances may trigger it and the beginning of the school year is one of them. However, as mentioned above some preparations, forethought and consistency are elements that help to sail through this stage with ease and to adjust comfortably to new routines.