It’s “back-to-school” season. But after the past year of disrupted learning, shifts in schedules, and constant changes to learning environments (including online/remote, in-person, and hybrid combinations of schooling), the need to move forward feels urgent.
Surviving an evolving global public health crisis has taught us valuable lessons (many that we’re still learning). While elements and details of the coming school year may remain uncertain, emotional resilience and the ability to cope with change, transitions, uncertainty, and renorming in a “new” normal, are likely recurring themes families will continue to navigate in the months ahead. Three key strategies, or “ABCs,” to mindfully move forward to school this year include:
The late American writer, Toni Morrison, is credited with saying: “When a child walks in the room, your child or anybody else’s child, do your eyes light up? That’s what they’re looking for.”
Attitude is defined as “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person's behavior.” Brain research supports that our attitude can influence our environment, outlook, mental state, daily behavior, and interactions with others. Mirror neurons indicate we are wired to search for similarities in others, so our attitude and the way we “show up” for kids matters.
While the coming weeks may look different from “normal” back-to-school seasons of the past, find small ways to delight in your child. Smile when they enter a room and look for reciprocity -- do they smile in return? Model ways to grapple with anxiety, excitement, fears, and the unknowns about the upcoming school year. Teach your child about the power of positive self-talk.
Children will be looking to the adult models in their lives for cues on how to handle everything from mask protocols to meeting a new teacher. Share how you handle new challenges, proactively gather as much information as you can about the “knowns” of this school year, and prioritize back-to-school events to alleviate anxiety and those first day jitters.
Part of the silver lining of last year was that the balance of the school year shifted. Most children spent more time at home with family members than in a traditional school year. Moving forward to school successfully will likely shift the balance again in new ways this year.
If your family started “pandemic traditions” or rituals like movie or game board nights, take out Tuesdays, sleep-in Saturdays, or screen-free Sundays -- hold on to the elements of these traditions that brought you together as a family. Evaluate extra-curricular schedules and make decisions about what the ideal balance between school, home, work, and play looks like for each family member.
Remember that less is sometimes more.
Advocate for the balance your student(s) need in partnership with schools and educators. Many districts are continuing remote and hybrid options in addition to in-person learning to provide flexibility and meet the different health and safety needs of students. Think about the approaches and strategies that were successful for your student last year and try to continue those practices this year. Share your child’s strengths and stretch areas up front with teachers. Check out this 3x3 card template and exercise that students and families can use to proactively share and self-advocate at the start of the school year. Or download this four week back-to-school action plan to support your family in making the shift from summer to a new year of schooling.
As last year proved, what happens during the school year can be unpredictable and largely out of an individual family’s sphere of control. So -- control what you can. Put consistent routines in place for when/where students will do schoolwork, bedtimes, wake-up times, lunch prep, technology/screen-time parameters, and other daily tasks. Consistency and routine increase predictability, safety, and security, which in turn can reduce anxiety or fears of the unknown.
Check out PBS’s repository of “back-to-school” supports which include a collection devoted to creating routines. Make routines flexible enough that they are “doable” and consistent enough that you can gauge what’s working (and what’s not) for your family.
Where schools provide family discretion (as many districts are doing with respect to masking for instance), decide what works best for your family and follow that plan as faithfully as possible. When inevitable disruptions occur that break the routines, rituals, and consistency that work for your family, plan for how to reset and regroup. Use disruptions to revisit your attitude and mindset and model how you pivot in times of change.
Finally, know that you are not alone. Post-pandemic parenting and schooling is new territory for systems, schools, and individual families. Change is challenging for children and adults alike. Speaking honestly about your own anxiety normalizes that experiencing a range of emotions is what makes us human and whole. When you voice your own fears and struggles, it gives kids permission to share their feelings openly and honestly.
And if you find you are in need of a partner in your child’s education -- from advocacy to academic tutoring to socio-emotional support -- reach out to the Hopkins team today.
Voted Colorado Parent magazine’s “Family Favorites Top Tutors” for four years running, we partner with students and families to make moving forward to school safe, supportive, and stress-free.