Back to School Tips to Help Your Child Adjust to Returning to Campus

In the coming weeks, many students will be heading back to a school campus and filling classrooms. This can be exciting and anxiety-provoking, scary and hopeful, joyful and stressful or all of these emotions and others, all at once! Regardless of how someone is feeling, whether they are a parent or a caregiver, their feelings are valid, especially right now. COVID has been hard. It has asked us to adapt so many times and school has been no exception. Here are some ideas that might be helpful to ease the feelings around this upcoming transition:

 

Lean into the familiar

Although a lot has changed, a lot has also remained the same. Many students may be returning to the same school campus with familiar faces and places. Before heading back to school, remember who the safe people are and where those safe spaces may be on campus. A safe person might be a former teacher, a school counselor, a school nurse, or even a friend. A safe place might be a bench to take a break and some deep breaths, a long hallway to walk things out, or an office or classroom that brings you happy memories.

 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

There is something really brave about asking for help! It’s courageous to admit to another person that you might need a little extra support. It’s important to remember that you are not alone in these COVID related experiences. Many students and even teachers might be feeling some really similar feelings and by asking for help or talking things out, you might even be allowing someone else to admit they are feeling the same!

 

Prepare

Preparing in the days before a big change can be really helpful in knowing what to expect and in easing the challenges of a transition. Creating healthy habits like sleep, exercise, and nutrition in the weeks to days before the school year starts can help your mind and body to feel more prepared. Here are some tips:

  • Getting enough sleep or starting a sleep routine that matches the school schedule is helpful before school actually begins.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions about what the day might look like. Talk about reminders of COVID protocols such as wearing masks, washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, and keeping distance from others. These are reminders for children about what they can continue to do to protect themselves, protect others, and relieve any illness anxiety amidst this transition.
  • Drive/walk by or, if possible, walk around campus to remember where things are and what school looks like or even review a map of school if one is available on the school’s website. Sometimes when we are feeling anxious about a change in our lives, it can be really helpful to focus on the things in our control; especially now, during a time when so much has been out of our control.
  • Other ways to prepare include neatly organizing backpacks the day before heading back to school or decorating a notebook or a pencil pouch to feel unique and get kids excited about using their supplies again.
  • Have a self-care day the day before school, to alleviate stress: make a comforting meal together, have an in-home spa day, play with slime, spend some time in nature or whatever else feels comforting and stress relieving!

 

Process and Praise

For caregivers and adults, it can be hard for us to fully know what this experience has been like and is going to continue to be like for our children. Asking open-ended questions instead of yes or no questions after a school day can be helpful in encouraging a child to be more comfortable honestly sharing how school is going. Some examples of open-ended questions include: “What was the highlight of your day? What was a low part of your day?” “What was something that made you laugh today?” “If you could change one part of your day, what part would you want to go differently?” It’s helpful to leave things open for our students to share how they’re feeling and to let them know there are no wrong or right feelings. Let them know that everything is welcome especially in a time where things feel scary and unknown sometimes. Also, going back to school in a global pandemic is a big deal and getting through each day is an accomplishment in and of itself! Praise them for trying! Praise them for sharing how they’re feeling! Praise them!

 

Colleen Stafford is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s School Based Program. Stafford specializes in using the language of art to guide clients in making meaning of their personal stories and implementing this meaning into a process of healing and growth. Stafford began her journey at The Guidance Center as an intern in 2017 and received her Masters from Loyola Marymount University in Marriage and Family Therapy and Art Therapy.

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