Starting any new school year can be stressful—but after the trauma of the last 18+ months in a global pandemic, readjusting to this weird kind of “normal,” and the uncertainty of what’s to come, this year presents new challenges.
There are lots of simple ways you can start now to mentally and emotionally prepare your family for the fall. The following strategies can help your family get ready for the unique school year ahead.
Talk about feelings.
It’s totally expected that your kids (and YOU!) are probably feeling all the feels—from relief to anxiety, excitement to sadness. Reassure your kids that whatever mixture of feelings they have, it’s normal.
Be sure to validate their feelings by reminding them how hard the last school year was, and explaining that it makes sense to carry a lot of big emotions about that difficult time. And give them things to look forward to, like seeing an old friend or getting into theater club again.
Ask the right Qs.
A ton of stress about the fall just comes from not knowing what to expect—there are a lot of questions up in the air. To help ease that uncertainty, reach out to your school or district to see how they’ll be handling things.
Ask questions like:
- Will the school be enforcing CDC recommendations including masking, social distancing, and COVID testing for staff? (Note that the CDC just updated their guidelines to say everyone in K-12 schools should wear masks.)
- What happens when a student shows signs of COVID at school this year?
- Think about things your kiddo will want to know—like what bus rides will be like, and whether or not they’ll be able to sit with friends at lunch.
- What kind of cleaning and sanitizing will happen each day? Should kids come with their own hand sanitizer?
- What kinds of mental health supports will be in place for kids who are struggling with the transition?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a full list of suggestions for keeping schools safe. If you want more ideas about what you should be looking for—and sample demands to help you advocate for a safe and just environment for students and teachers—the National Education Association (NEA) has some great tips.
Pick a go-to coping strategy.
Just knowing that you have a strategy you can use to calm down when feeling anxious can make you feel better.
Make a list with your family of the things that help you all feel better during tough moments that you can do any time, anywhere—like taking 10 deep breaths, or repeating a positive mantra. You could even practice a coping strategy like Acknowledge-Validate-Permit (shortened to AVP in TIME), which just means noticing a feeling when you have it (acknowledge), reassuring yourself about why it makes sense (validate), and then allowing yourself to feel that emotion (permit). As the author suggests, “Think to yourself: ‘I’m noticing I’m feeling pretty tense as I take the train into work today. That makes sense, after all, I haven’t done this in a while and the world has changed a ton since March 2020! I’m allowed to feel nervous as I make this transition.’” Practicing this whenever feeling stressed can help parents and kids deal with anxiety as it comes up.
Have each family member use a different color to mark their favorites, and choose one that will be their go-to method to de-stress when they need it. You might even write each person’s strategy down on an index card to keep in their backpack as a reminder.
Putting some of these simple strategies in place now can help your family enjoy the remaining weeks of summer together with a little more peace of mind and start the new school year with confidence.