Going back to school is a time when parents and kids alike experience a mix of feelings. It’s a time of excitement, anticipation, and learning that also brings challenges that require adaptation — this year more than ever. There are a number of ways to help your kids develop resilience and allow them space to express their emotions as the school year unfolds.
“One of the best ways to help children regulate their emotions is to give them daily structure,” said Don Mordecai, MD, national mental health leader for Kaiser Permanente. “It’s important to focus on the things we can control. Establishing routines for the school year can provide a sense of normalcy and help them cope with uncertainty and change.”
Dr. Mordecai also recommends that parents model healthy habits by caring for themselves.
“Strengthening our social connections while maintaining physical distance is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and those we care about during the pandemic,” he explained. “Take care of yourself with regular physical activity and adequate rest.”
If you can remain healthy and calm, you’ll be better able to help your children manage the stresses of this time. Creating routines for you and your children is the best way to make sure you keep up healthy habits. A regular family walk, for example, provides both physical activity and a time to check in with each other. And establishing regular bedtimes and wake-up times helps to keep the body clock on track.
Reassure your children and let them know it’s normal to feel stressed or worried in times like these. Make sure they understand that they are not alone and that you’ll be there to help them adapt. This can help them feel more connected and secure.
If they are back to an in-person setting for school, be sure to review the expectations set by the school and local government for how kids are expected to interact with peers and school staff in order to keep everyone safe, including distancing and mask requirements. Let your children know that you expect them to follow these rules.
“It helps to focus on the positive whenever you can,” said Dr. Mordecai. “Encourage your kids to talk about the things they’re looking forward to about the new school year, but be open to whatever they may have to say. It’s important for kids to know that they won’t overwhelm those who care for them if they express their true feelings.”
Read more about helping your kids adjust to the new school year.