As parents, you know that one of the keys to success for helping kids to learn, regulate, and engage in activities is to provide structure. Typically, that means making them aware of what is to come. However, we are currently living in a time when there is a lot of unknown. Expectations may change weekly or even daily and adults don’t know what to expect any more than our kids. So, what can you do to help set them up for success?
Talk about the differences
It is important to recognize that this school year will be different than other school years, whether your child will be going to school or learning remotely. Have an open and honest conversation about what will be the same and what will be different. This will help your child to know what to expect before they begin the school year. If your child is going to school, emphasize the importance of following safety guidelines at school and help your child identify who they can go to with questions when in the classroom. It can also be helpful to note that school may change throughout the year, depending on safety.
This may sound like: “School is starting again in a few weeks. Right now, you will be going to school one week and learning from home the next week. It will switch off each week. You will be able to see your friends at school, which is very exciting, but it is important to remember that this year is different and when you see your friends, you want to keep yourself and your friends safe. That means staying farther away than you’re used to and always wearing a mask.”
It’s OK to say “I don’t know”
Talking to your kids about tough subjects shows them that you are open to answering questions and that you are confident they will be able to weather what is to come. It can be scary to let your kids know that you don’t know what will happen, but it is important to keep the lines of communication open. Answer their questions that you know the answers to and if you are not sure, be willing to share that. This will show your children that adults don’t know everything and that you can learn together. If you are able to return with an answer at a later time or after some research, make sure to share that and always return to the conversation when you are ready. Keep conversations appropriate to their developmental level.
This may sound like: “People near us are being safe with their germs by wearing a mask and staying six feet apart. We are talking to your teachers to see if you can go back to school and keep your body safe there. Mommy will let you know what school we be like once I find out from your teachers. Right now, I am not sure yet, but I can try to answer your questions with what I know.”
Check-in on feelings
Returning to school is likely anxiety-provoking for your child. They have been separated from their teachers, school, and peers for an extended time and school expectations have changed considerably. While kids still have to focus on their academics, they also need to be mindful of hygiene and safety, all while trying to build friendships. Leave space for your child to share their concerns and validate those feelings. Avoid trying to change how they feel and instead, try to listen and let them know all of their feelings are understood. These supportive experiences help your child to realize that negative feelings are part of life and that it is helpful to talk about them. Try to stay away from too many questions and instead, open the conversation to them sharing on their own. By opening the door to the conversation while keeping the pressure of sharing low, kids are more likely to come to you.
This may sound like: “It has been fun to spend the summer together, but school starts soon. I know learning from home was hard last year and going back to school after a fun summer is always disappointing. My work schedule is going to be busier too and I’m a little nervous about it.”
Set up your space for the school year
Whether your child is returning to the school building or a virtual learning setting, getting ready for the school year is part of beginning on a positive foot. Engage your child in what supplies they will need for school and either get their backpack ready with supplies or set up a separate workspace for school with all of the supplies readily available. If your child will be learning remotely, spend time learning the virtual platforms prior to school beginning so you can support them in accessing what they need. Separate toys and electronics from your child’s workspace to keep these activities out of sight. If your child will be attending school, setting up a homework station will help support independent work as well.
This may sound like: “School starts in a few weeks. Usually we get to pick up your supplies and get a new backpack. This year, since you’re learning from home, I want your help in setting up your school desk. We’ll be able to pick out your supplies and decorate your desk before the first day of school.”