As we inch toward a First Day of School unlike any we’ve ever experienced, many of us are feeling overwhelmed by supporting virtual learning at home or sending our kids to a classroom environment adapted to COVID-19 standards.
In spring of this year, lockdown procedures were swift and messy—even institutions with online options in place could not ease millions of kids and parents whose daily lives were suddenly so confined. Fortunately, Summer Break has given our schools time to refine their curriculum and provide enhanced training for educators, and kids are more accustomed to social distancing. This also means that expectations will be more rigorous. The responsibility falls to parents and caregivers to find harmony in day-to-day life.
Listed below are suggestions for acclimating to a strange new school year:
- SET A SCHEDULE: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends establishing a clear school day for kids learning at home, which includes waking up at a regular time each morning and changing out of pajamas. While you may not know yet if your child will have to log on at set times, it still helps to have routine school hours, lunch and snack breaks, and recess/break time.The AAP advises that routine is important for teens too. Because they can entertain themselves for longer periods of time, it can be tempting for busy parents to leave them alone. Most adolescents still need help with time management. Check in with them regularly and ask specific questions about their work.
- For adults working from home simultaneously, you may benefit from discussing the day ahead with your child each morning. Let them know if/when you’ll be unavailable due to calls or deadlines, and prepare for any overlaps. Can lunch be made ahead, clothes set out the night before, or alarms set for break times? Overwhelmed as we are, this is an opportunity for kids to work on self-starting as a life skill.
- PRIORITIZE MENTAL & EMOTIONAL WELLNESS: Back-to-school is typically an exciting time with events, shopping for supplies, playing sports, and seeing friends every day. Young and older kids alike will be disappointed by how foreign this year continues to be. Seek out opportunities for normalcy and fun, like decorating a working space at home, establishing a day that your child can have a video call with a friend during lunchtime, or doing something special on Fridays to celebrate a week completed.Check in with kids of any age on their mental well-being, acknowledging their frustrations and speaking candidly to let them know you’re in the same boat.
- Of course, older kids aren’t so easy to appease. “Many teenage patients experience anxiety during the school year,” says Dr. Patrick Hynes at Prospect Pediatrics. “They juggle responsibilities that include a heavy academic load, and they’re not getting the same opportunities to de-stress right now. Social media is a pro and a con—they can communicate with friends, but they can also be over-exposed to their peer group.”
- ADJUST ACCORDINGLY FOR LEARNING DIFFICULTIES: Online learning and strict classrooms are both tough environments for kids with ADHD. The AAP stresses that Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) should be adjusted where possible. Your pediatrician can support this process, and ongoing communication with your child’s medical home will best ensure that your child’s care plan meets their needs.
- While it goes without saying that parents should try to be patient during frustrating moments of the day, remember to be patient with yourself too—you are adapting to this process together. Try not to dwell on the imperfect parts of the day.
- FOLLOW NEW OR UPDATED SAFETY REGULATIONS: Every precaution in place is intended to keep students, their families, and their teachers safe. Though kids are generally not as vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 as adults, sick teachers or staff are irreplaceable. In the same way that you gradually prepare for the school year by going to bed earlier, start encouraging young children to get used to face coverings if they’re required for in-person classes, or give them a visual to show what 6 feet of distance looks like.
Whatever the coming weeks and months bring, it’s important to get through one day at a time. Lean on your care network during times of uncertainty, and contact your doctor’s office if your child is unwell or struggling in ways that are hard to manage. Every ONE Pediatrics location adheres to diligent safety and cleanliness standards to keep our patients safe.
For more information and resources, visit https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/default.aspx