Back to School, Back to Normal?

School is officially in session! Students across the country are either gearing up to return or have already returned to school. But unfortunately, the pandemic brought the school systems to their knees as they closed and embarked on online learning. While some students found it helpful, others struggled and buckled under the weight of navigating online learning.


As a parent, I saw both my kids excel and struggle with being at home and unable to interact with others effectively. Often the teacher's faces were the only faces students saw days in and days out. Isolation was setting in, and many experienced mental health challenges. So the thought of returning to school felt like the correct answer.


As children prepare for in-person learning, there is a sigh of relief for some, both from students and parents. Many feel that this will solve the mental health challenges children are currently facing all over the globe. Finally, kids can adequately socialize with their peers and use interactive learning. Will things get back to “normal”?


While I believe it will be helpful to return to in-person learning, l I don’t think children and parents alike are thinking about the impact of what returning to in-person entails. It took adjusting to get to online learning, and if we are honest, some students could not adjust. So why is there this belief that things will go back to normal?


There has to be an adjustment period with returning to school. As a therapist, I’ve talked to children and parents who’ve expressed nervousness about returning to school. For various reasons, this makes sense. There is still a pandemic! While it felt like there was a moment in which things were getting better, COVID aggressively came through with Delta. And these variants are not aged discriminate. There is a fear amongst many that perhaps there will be another long shut down. Growing concerns from doctors and scientists show that children are contracting the virus at a rapid rate. So yeah, there are lots of concerns.


There’s also this anxiety running rampant due to being isolated at home for the last 18 months. In my practice, children have expressed that they have forgotten how to socialize, creating some symptoms of social anxiety. Some children even say that they were once social, but because of everything that has happened in their last school year, they lack the desire to be social. So who are those kids that I only saw blank faces? Will they know it was me? Am I able to make friends? All of these questions are genuine worries.


Lastly, don't forget about the routines and school work. No matter what happened during the shutdown, there’s nothing like trying to return to routines long forgotten with in-person learning. Bedtimes, morning times, all of these things take adjustment.

So basically, there will not be this magic “normal,” and kids return to themselves pre-pandemic. I’m not saying that they will not adjust and get into a good place. I’m just saying it’s not going to happen overnight. So parents, educators, and kiddos, be patient!! I don't want to be a Debbie-Downer, so here are a few tips to help have a better transition to in-person learning.


TIPS:

  1. Make sure your morning and evening routines are established and be consistent. Kids need consistency!

  2. Talk to your children. It’s essential to learn what fears or concerns your child may have. It’s equally important to explore with them how they are doing daily.

  3. As stated before, be patient with your children. While you may think that sending your kid off to school is the cure-all, it may not be. Some kids suffered in school before the pandemic, so they may not want to go back. If kids aren't jumping up and down to return to school, it’s ok. Let your child know that you understand and will help them through the process.

  4. Watch behavior. Look for signs of your child being more nervous than before. Explore with them if there is hesitation with going to school once it starts back and even before. Take note if your kids are less social.

  5. Prepare. These times have brought a lot of uncertainty. Expect that there may be more of this down the line so that you’re ready. Talk to your children about all the possible outcomes as COVID continues to impact many lives. Also, classrooms won’t be the same before the pandemic. Make sure your children understand this.

  6. Seek out help for your children if you notice that they may need additional help. As resilient as children are, they have experienced a lot, and sometimes processing needs to happen with a professional.

  7. If you know your child may struggle with returning to school, talk with your teacher so that you both can work together. It's always better to have a plan and not need it than not have a plan at all.

I’m rooting for you all to have a safe and fun school year!

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