Its back-to-school season again and the familiar, combined feelings of excitement and nervousness is back in the air. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and we are all still trying to understand, adapt, and accept that remote and hybrid learning will now be a part of our daily routine—both for parents and for our school-aged children.
The reality now among families with school-aged children is how to continue being flexible and to adjust quickly when there is an immediate change to established routines due to COVID-19. At this point, we are all still trying to practice the lessons we learned living with the virus.
As families begin to normalize daily routines, here are some tips on how your family can address challenges and the tools you may need to adapt to the new normal in our schools.
• Plan ahead
“Planning helps me ensure that my children have all that they need—books, school supplies, uniforms and even snacks,” said Maricar Manicdao Guintu, a mother to one college student and two high school teens.
The Gualo Rai mom said that planning for school opening has also helped her family save money since they are able to reuse and recycle barely used school supplies.
These days, Guntu said, a big part of her family’s back-to-school planning includes learning about the school’s safety protocols. “My main worry is that they will catch COVID in school and I believe that the best way to combat this is to teach my children to be proactive in practicing the 3W’s—washing hands, wearing a mask, and the six-foot physical distancing rule.”
• Establish a mental health wellness routine
Medical experts consider COVID-19 as a collective trauma and studies continue to remain inconclusive on the pandemic’s long-term impact. What is sure, however, is that cases of anxiety and depression have been soaring among young children and teens. The pandemic has disrupted all established aspects of our lives such as our sense of guidance, of coping, and, to some extent, access to food and basic necessities.
Dr. Nina Chaudhary, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said it is important that parents be proactive in checking their children’s mental health. “Look for signs of isolation, irritability, low mood, difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation and interest in everyday activities.”
Dr. Chaudhary recommends getting professional psychiatric or medical help once parents see these character changes so they can know for sure the reason behind the attitude and mood changes and they can be addressed immediately.
• Establish school routines
What once were the norm of waking up at a designated time in the morning to prepare for school or wearing school uniforms were eased during remote learning. But since in-person school is back, this means new morning and sleeping schedules need to be reinforced and followed.
“It’s three weeks before school opens and I already have my two teenagers sleeping early so they can wake up early to prepare for school. It’s hard because sleeping late became customary, but now I have to be strict with the adjusted sleeping and wake up times to make sure they get the sleep they need,” Guintu said.
“My children have also gone back to their habit of organizing and preparing for school the night before, so this will make it easy for them to grab all that they need for school the next day,” she added.
• Manage expectations. Things take time to change
Since we are still going through some big changes brought by COVID-19, it is expected that we still need more time to go back to what we were once accustomed to, including in-person learning.
Psychiatrists advise not to expect our children to come home with the outstanding grades they used to earn. There will be challenges with the way our children interact with their peers and their teachers because every now and then, they will have to go back to isolation, especially when there is an outbreak in their schools. Set and maintain realistic expectations for your children and anticipate that it will take time for everyone to get to normal routines.
• Stay connected with friends
Children, especially the younger ones, are always the most excited to welcome a new school year. But because their interaction with friends and peers were limited due to COVID-19, we still continue to help them improve their social skills. Nemours’ KidsHealth recommends that helping children practice by setting up play dates or playing games as a family helps ease their anxiety. As an add-on motivator. praise their good behavior such as showing kindness, sharing, or being a good sport
• Classroom rules
While children have already adjusted to being inside a classroom setting again, the younger ones are still trying to cope with new classroom rules and setup. Educational experts recommend that, for those in this age group, parents could help their children by reminding them that the rules are there to keep everyone safe
• Keeping up with schoolwork
By now, many students have already adjusted well to remote learning. However, studies show that children with learning issues, those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders or ADHD, and some who have little or no access to technology have struggled to cope.
Guintu said that, as parents of student achievers, the best thing she did was to lift the pressure on her children who were worrying about coping with a new workload and getting grades that were lower than expected. “It also helped that teachers were there to help my children catch up with schoolwork if they felt they were lagging behind.”
• Stay flexible and adaptable
As a family, Guintu said they had to learn to adapt and anticipate changes to workload and schedules at a short notice to ensure that the children’s studies were not disrupted.
“As parents, we have learned that the best way to support our children is to stay mentally flexible. We worked with teachers to stay on top of school schedules and we made sure that we can go to them at any time to talk about our children’s progress in case they would need extra help with schoolwork.”
• Be present and consistent
Children need stability during times of changes. Dr. Chaudhary said the best help parents can give is to be present, predictable, and consistent.
“Giving time and emotional support and understanding their daily challenges is what we tried to always give our children. It’s compassion, warmth, and calm that made them overcome the setbacks,” Guintu said.