- Gonzalo Laje
It's Almost Time to Head Back to School!
After spending many months at home, children and teens may feel nervous and apprehensive about going back to school and being apart from family. With the start of school right around the corner, we want to help children and teens transition back to school with minimal stress and high excitement, particularly after such a turbulent time in everyone’s lives. Just as it took a while to figure out remote work and learning protocols, it will take a while for children of all ages to reintegrate into in-person school and the way of life that surrounds it. Here are some tips: Family Meetings Think about having a family meeting prior to the start of school in which you talk to your children and teens about their worries, fears, hopes, expectations, and excitement. What are they looking forward to the most? What concerns them? Give them a safe space to express themselves and share anything that’s on their minds so they aren't holding it all in. If talking is not your child’s best form of expression, use play, art, or books to add to the dialogue. You may find that the fears you think they have are different from their reality. Your child may only be excited and looking forward to seeing people again in person. They may be thrilled about getting back to a traditional school environment. Alternatively, they may be more anxious than you’d realized. Talk about situations that could cause stress, such as homework, or new rules in the classroom. For older students, increases in rigor and academic expectations are a part of these changes. Let your child know that you will be there for them as they manage these stressors and that you will be working through things together. You might even want to plan several of these family meetings throughout the beginning of the school year and beyond. Dealing with COVID Being around people again may elicit anxiety for children who have been worried about getting sick. It can be helpful to practice reframing negative thoughts as more positive ones in advance. If your child or teen says they are worried that they will get sick, practice positive self-talk that counters the worry, like, "I know I'm worried I will get sick, and I also know I'll be wearing a mask, washing my hands, and keeping distance from other kids, so I’m doing everything I need to do to keep myself safe.” It may be tempting to say, “Everything will be OK,” or “No one will get sick“ but such words can prevent children from facing their fears and developing problem-solving and coping skills, especially since we don’t have any guarantees. Let your children know you’ll be doing all you can to keep them and yourself safe as well. Be honest about possible changes throughout the school year, as temporary or prolonged changes to virtual learning that may occur to ensure safety. Working on Coping Skills Teach your child about their brain! If they tend to be anxious, help them understand that their brain sometimes acts like a fire alarm. It can help them if there is danger, but it doesn’t always know the difference between a burnt bagel that just needs to go in the trash, and full-on fire. Help your children learn to calm their brains. You can do this by teaching them to talk to their brains about what is going on - “I know you feel scared right now, but you’re safe. There’s no fire.” Teach them deep-breathing techniques which they can use if feelings of panic or worry arise at school. Try this. Inhale through your nose for three counts, hold your breath for four counts and exhale slowly through your mouth for three counts. Or imagine you are holding a hot chocolate topped with whip cream and marshmallows. Slowly breathe in that delicious smell through your nose. Now, blow out slowly through your mouth to cool the hot chocolate, but don’t blow too hard! You don’t want to blow off the whip cream and marshmallows. Repeat each of these as many times as necessary. Let your children know that these exercises send signals to the brain that they are safe and that it is ok to calm down. Consider Transitional Objects For younger kids especially, have a comfort item at school can be helpful. This could be a photo of family members, a special piece of jewelry they can touch to remind them of their family (even better if parents have a matching one), or some other object from home that is allowed at school and that can be visited as needed in the classroom. Keep an Eye on Mental Health Check in periodically about your child's mental health - even if it has never been a concern before. Talk to your child, play with your child, and spend time with your child. Look for signs and symptoms that something is not quite right. If you notice that your child is isolating themselves, showing more irritability or sadness, struggling with sleeping, showing changes in eating habits, feeling unmotivated, struggling to enjoy activities they usually enjoy, or expressing concerns about safety, we recommend that you reach out to a professional for help. You can start with your child’s pediatrician, or reach out to a mental health provider. If you are not sure if you should be concerned, the providers can help! Routines Transitioning our children into a structured daily routine that includes exercise, socialization, and a healthy amount of sleep will be necessary as the school year begins. However, everyone's routines may look different from how they were before. Sleep cycles are off. Commutes will resume. Mealtimes might shift. Practically all routines may have to change to adapt to in-person school. The best thing you and your children can do is to set realistic expectations and anticipate that getting into a new and stable groove will take some time. Keep talking about changes as they occur, and discuss shifts in the routine. As much as possible, have your children take part in the planning. Similarly, protocols at school may continue to change, so again, setting this expectation can be helpful. Academics If you are heading into the school year with academic (or other) concerns about your child or teen, reach out to the school to see what resources are available to help. Many schools have been preparing for this transition, knowing that there may be new issues to identify in many of the children, even those who were not struggling prior to COVID. For some children and teens, there have been obvious upsides to doing school from home. These might include more free time, more time with parents and siblings, and more time to do homework. Other children may have felt more comfortable without having to navigate social challenges. If you have a child or teen who’s been really successful at home, explore what’s been working well and talk with the school about changes that can be made to help carry over the success as your child or teen heads back to school. Be ready to work with your children and their school for problem-solving if issues arise. Our Individual Therapies for Children, Adolescents, & Teens are therapies that help your child through any aspect of their life. We understand your concerns, we’ll work with you to create an initial treatment plan. Your child will be an active participant in treatment planning as well. Their individual therapy is strongly driven by their needs and emotions. Therapy will likely involve talk, and maybe some gameplay and expressive therapies (like art). For more information on our Individual Therapies and other supportive services visit wbma.cc or call us at (301)576-6044