1. Be proactive about mental health
No news is good news is absolutely incorrect in this case. How can you recognize when your child is having a tough time? Look ￼for signs and symptoms that something is wrong: these include isolation, irritability, low mood, poor frustration tolerance, ￼difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment of normal activities, crying, or concerns about safety. I’d recommend having a very low threshold for getting professional help.
2. Consider the effects of layers of change
In general, in any circumstances, going back to school is a big change. But it’s a whole new setting especially for kids who are going from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school. All of a sudden, they’re expected to know what they’re doing. It’s a huge shift from being in their space at home to now being in this world of back to school. Or a new school. If your child is having a hard time with the transition, think about how they normally act when they’re stressed and look for those behaviors. For example, if your child gets headaches or stomach aches when they’re anxious, you’ll know that school is stressing them out should they start having them more frequently. Of course, big markers are mood changes, anxiety on Sunday nights before the school week starts, and outright school refusal.
3. Establish routines before and after school
Kids need stability during times of change. Be present, predictable and consistent. Family might be the only part of their lives that feels that way right now. Be there for them and follow their lead as much as you can. Maintaining appropriate times for bed, dinner, prepping for the week, recreational time, and chores is more important than ever.￼ Doing as much as possible beforehand is also comforting to kids￼. Pack your lunch or snacks, put out clothes you want to wear, prep your backpack, go over the schedule for the next day, all the night before.
4. Be peaceful energy
If your child’s reactions seem different, perhaps snippier than usual or even overreacting to seemingly small stressors, the best thing you can do is meet the reactions with compassion, warmth, and calm, instead of reacting yourself. An overreaction can take the form of minimizing in order to be presumably reassuring, being overly solicitous of fears or worries, or just being impatient. Now is NOT the time, as I always tell families, to get into conflicts, or try to confront bigger issues in the household￼. Times of transition require calmness. ￼As school starts, building up the daily routine and foundation of￼ daily household functioning creates scaffolding.
5. Make things fun
I have kids pick masks that they enjoy, personalize their backpack or notebook with buttons and stickers, select snacks that they love to take to school￼￼, make a playlist of favorite YouTube snippets or music that cheers them up and give it a special name (mine is Monday, Monday)￼, and bring something personal with them to school, a small stress toy, journal, or stuffed animal. In my office, I have an assortment of squeezy toys, animals and dinosaurs, and action figures. Sometimes clients like to pick and take a toy with them. It connects them to a sense of safety, known as a transitional object.
6. Reassure them that they are not alone
Many kids have not seen their friends or teachers in over a year. Kids have questions. They want to know how they are going to get from class to class on time. Are they going to miss their bus? How will they get around the school building without getting lost? What will they do if they start having anxiety during class? Where will they sit at lunch? What if they don’t know anybody in their class? Being able to discuss all of these questions without minimizing worries or concerns is needed. Making school advisors, counselors, and administrators aware of any medical or mental health concerns beforehand is also recommended.