Talking to Children About Returning to School

Parents everywhere are facing some difficult, yet extremely important decisions concerning their children’s learning format and safety protocols this upcoming school year. Many school districts are and have engaged families in their discussions about the re-opening process. What will formal learning look like when schools are to resume educating children? Will they invite students back into their buildings this fall, or will students learn remotely? Will it be a combination of the two?

The number one concern of schools and parents should not center on their academic progress  without prioritizing health and safety. Let’s face it, schools’ physical design and planning did not designate spaces in which social distancing rules could be easily accommodated. Parents know this and are equally aware that, even if space is re-designed, there is always room for human error.Children and staff still face health risks.

After this period of remote learning, disrupted daily routines and familiar ‘normals’, children must be confused, anxious and possibly ambivalent about re-entering their school buildings. They can sense the tension from the adults and while most children are eager to return to the social component of learning at school, they must look to their caregivers to guide them through it all.

Kids often have a tough time making the transition back to school after any length of time away. Even if it is summer break or COVID-19, we have to give them time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school, while acknowledging that this time it is going to be different. It is important to talk about what worries them and offer support. Validate their concerns, telling them that it is OK to feel worried. After you validate their feelings, move on to strengths. Tell them that it may be hard at first, but it will be fine, and you know that they will get through this. That is much better than telling them that ‘there’s nothing to worry about’. Children don’t buy that anyway. It just communicates to them that the person they turn to for support doesn’t understand or ‘get it’. It will only increase their anxiety.

Focus on the positive things about going back to school. Many times, when parents go shopping for school supplies, they do so without the children being present. Plan this year’s shopping to be done along with the children. Let them be a part of the decision-making as to what supplies are bought. A composition book is a composition book….except when they have different cover designs, and so forth. Let your child personalize and individualize their supplies. Making them an active participant in the process gives them more feelings of control. It makes the transition more real, less scary and encourages their excitement about returning to the classroom.




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