How to help a child who is returning to school after Covid 19
Helping a child return to school following Covid 19 in 2021
Children and a child in Foster care will have challenges when returning to school this year.
For many families, children have attended school in an online classroom for the better part of a year or more following Covid 19 pandemic. In contrast, some children returned to a modified school schedule for the last school year. However, many are faced with returning to school full-time in the coming weeks. It has both birth parents and foster parents wondering what challenges to anticipate and what tools they may need to navigate the new school year.
Dr. Neha Chaudhary, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, advises her families that "it's good to plan ahead." According to Chaudhary, the more you plan as a family, the more it will alleviate any worries your child may have. Instead, equip your child with the tools needed to feel confident through the transition forward, if this is middle school, high, or elementary school-age children. Teachers and mental health professionals who work with adoption and foster care kids recognize they will need a little more help as the transition is hard for them due to past trauma.
The parent and the child and foster parents, and the children in foster care must be aware of the school's new safety precautions. It is also essential to review them together, so there aren't surprises when your child first goes to school. Additionally, if you have higher-risk family members you are concerned about, be sure to explain what that means for your child and the extra precautions that might entail compared to what their friends might need to do in their homes.
Here are some additional tips that may help children feel safe and prepared as schools reopen:
When Talking with Your Child
- Be honest and confident
- Listen to your child's fears and concerns
- Share your own experiences
- Answer questions with facts and ideas your child can understand; investing now can save time later
- Explain that school officials, state and local leaders will make sure students are safe and understand the additional needs of foster families.
Be Positive About the Future
- Stay calm
- Share/model how your family follows current safety guidelines
- Show/model how your family will follow new safety guidelines
- Embrace the new normal as a chance to teach life skills. This can include problem-solving, adapting to change, and taking care of ourselves and others.
Use Words Your Child Understands
Young children like to know what to expect.
- Discuss new routines, activities, and people they will see. Practice safety rules.
Pre-adolescent children like to ask detailed questions
- Give reasons for the changes in school routines
- Help them understand the difference between facts and rumors
Teenagers want to be included in decisions
- Guide them to accurate sources of information
- Help your child plan personal goals for school and the future.
Create a Schedule for the New Normal
- Routines help children feel calm and prepared for the day
- Answer questions about new safety rules at school
- Plan morning and evening routines, homework times, and school transportation
- Talk about seeing friends and teachers again
- Would you please encourage your child to make their best personal decision at school
Don't expect everything to change overnight. This is a big transition, and just as it took a while to figure out remote work and learning (if that even happened), it will take time to reintegrate back to in-person school and the way of life surrounding it. Were grades slipping during the pandemic? They may not suddenly go up. Was social life nonexistent? It may not snap back into play overnight; in fact, socialization might feel awkward for a while.
What's more, everyone's routines look different from how they did before. Sleep cycles are off. Commutes will have to come back. Mealtimes might shift. Practically all routines may have to change to adapt back to in-person school. The best thing you and your child can do is to set realistic expectations and anticipate that getting into a new and stable groove will take some time.
Stay flexible and adaptable.
As with any transition, re-entry into in-person schools will not be a perfect science, so anticipate hiccups and be ready to roll with the punches. Maybe an adverse event at the school leads to closure again, or cases in your local community rise, causing concern. Perhaps protocols continue to change.
Families should try their best to stay mentally flexible and ready to adapt, recognizing that things will be fluid for some time before they settle down into something more consistent. Parents can communicate with the school to stay on top of the latest information and brainstorm together with a representative like a counselor to support your child, given the changing circumstances.
Be present and consistent.
Children need stability during times of change. Try your best to be present, predictable, and consistent. You might be the only part of their lives - and minds - that feels that way right now. Be there for them and follow their lead as much as you can. This transition back to school won't be easy. Still, it hopefully will mark the beginning of communal healing for kids and families everywhere.