Most years, back-to-school time is filled with eager anticipation for kids and relief for parents, glad for the structure that a school schedule provides. But after two years of COVID-related disruptions, children, parents, and teachers are experiencing a wide range of emotions as the school year approaches. As you navigate the next few months, you’ll need to be prepared to “roll with the punches.” Following are strategies to help your child (and you) during these topsy-turvy times.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Be as fully prepared as possible to answer your child’s questions and establish good communication with school staff.
- Attend school activities and meetings, many of which may be offered in person as well as remotely. Regardless of the format, it’s important to participate as your school will be disseminating information, answering questions, and soliciting feedback.
- Clarify how your child’s teacher/school will be communicating with you. Stay up to date on emails/websites/texts so you know what your child is supposed to be doing.
- Share strategies with the teacher that have worked for your child in the past as well as those that have not.
- If your child is having trouble staying focused and motivated, consult with their teacher or a designated member of your school’s social-emotional team.
The Home Classroom
Create a “home classroom” to help your child be productive, engaged, and focused when working on homework or if remote learning is reinstated for even a brief time.
- Identify a designated workspace for schoolwork. Ideally, this should be an open space where you can visually check in with your child to ensure they are engaged in learning. If possible, your child’s workspace should not be in their room (though for some older kids or teens this may work fine).
- Keep all necessary school supplies in the designated area to limit the need to get up and down while working on assignments.
- Limit distractions in this area by removing extra electronics, games, and toys.
- Keep usernames and passwords for the devices used readily available.
- Have a water bottle and snacks (fruit, almonds, etc.) nearby to limit the ups and downs while working. Having healthy choices available will improve your child’s overall functioning and provide them with fuel as they work.
Pitch In as Needed
While you may not be a trained teacher, there are some things you can do to help ensure success.
- Help your child organize tasks. Assist in breaking down large tasks. Prioritizing tasks helps them become less overwhelmed.
- Check in regularly, even if your child is working independently. At a minimum plan a check-in at the end of a work session. Depending on your child’s level of independence you may need to check in multiple times throughout the session to make sure they are on track. This ensures they do not fall behind and provides an opportunity to teach them about organization, procrastination, and asking for help when needed.
- Be prepared to help. If your child is struggling, they will likely become frustrated and unmotivated. Try doing one or two practice examples together before having them move on independently.
- Create a reward system, particularly for younger children who may be less intrinsically motivated.
- Create visual signs to maintain boundaries. If you are working from home and your child is doing schoolwork, there are times when you cannot be interrupted. Setting up signs can help give visual cues to teach your child when they can ask for help and when they need to wait. For example, you can put a stop sign up at your workspace when you cannot be interrupted and take it down when you are available. You can similarly create “Help” signs for your child that they can put on their workspace.
Structure and consistency are keys to success in any learning environment.
- Create a schedule, which will help your child stay on track. It allows them to establish a routine so they understand expectations and can work more independently. A schedule also increases the child’s inner sense of “control” further reducing stress.
- Include both movement and brain breaks on the schedule for extended work sessions. But avoid TV, video games, etc. as those diversions can make it difficult to re-engage with school work.
Support Emotional Health
Be ready to manage stress—your child’s and your own. Both stress and calm are contagious. To set your child up for calm, it is essential that you take care of your own emotional needs first.
- Allow times for self-care, recreational activities, and family activities.
- If you and your child are experiencing conflict around school-related issues, it is especially important to balance them with positive experiences unrelated to school to maintain a healthy parent-child relationship.
- Establish expectations around screen time. Assuming a certain amount of screen time will happen in school, it is important to limit additional screen time. The neurological and emotional impacts of screens can occur regardless of the content. The point here is to find a balance between tech time and other activities.
- Encourage social connections. Ongoing friend interactions foster healthy social and emotional development.
- Get your child moving and get them outdoors.
- Schedule family game night/movie night/basketball night, etc.
If you or your child are struggling with the “new normal” you are not alone. You can help your child by prioritizing ways to stay emotionally and physically balanced. At the same time, do not hesitate to seek personal and professional supports to help pave the way for a successful school year.
With the return to the classroom, reinforce behaviors shown to protect health and safety including mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing.
- Increase your child’s awareness of their personal space and space of others by keeping 6 feet apart. Show your child what 6 feet is with a tape measure or piece of string. Identify items in their environment that are 6 feet long (their bed, the length of the dining room table, two hops, etc.).
- Reinforce coughing and sneezing into an elbow or a tissue, then immediately washing hands.
- Discourage face touching. Some tips to help kids do this include keeping their hands in their pockets or sitting on them.
- Model and practice proper hand washing. Use soap and warm water, singing “Happy Birthday” twice, using a paper towel to turn off the water (not their clean hands). Create a habit of all family members washing their hands as soon as they return to the house.
- Be on the lookout for hand sanitizer and use it frequently.
Christopher Bogart is the Executive Director of the Sasco River Center located in CT, and is the President of the Smart Kids Board of Directors.
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