Preparing Your Child to Go Back to In-Person School
Who could have foreseen that the world we knew and lived in would be upended so drastically?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we lead our day-to-day lives and bombarded us with new social norms, giving way to the new normal– lockdowns, frequent sanitizing, social distancing, wearing masks, work from home and online learning.
Of all the ways the pandemic disrupted life, school education was one of the worst hit. Classrooms became virtual screens, and in-person learning became non-existent overnight. For almost two years since the pandemic, children were removed from the physical environs of their schools. Face-to-face interactions with classmates and teachers, development of social and emotional skills, learning of arts and sports also took a back seat, all of which made it all the more clearer how important in-person schooling really is. Not to mention, screentime became a given, through school, and as an avenue to keep them busy, since helpless caregivers may be working from home.
Recently many schools in the country have begun re-opening in a phase-wise manner; the move is welcomed, but met with a lot of concerns from caregivers. The worries are not misplaced since a large populace still remains unvaccinated and inoculation of children awaits a go ahead from the public health department.
The bigger, yet less talked about concern is, how do we help kids prepare to return to in-person school. A child at home with a laptop is, in effect, the only child in class. 2 years of this, plus being in the comfort of one’s own home, and not having any interaction with peers, positive ones like playing and sharing, not so positive ones like fights and spats, not so much of use of masks and distancing.. It's quite a responsibility we are putting on these kids!
So how do we prepare the kids mentally for the transition back to school?
Don’t expect a change overnight
The child has been in a protective bubble, at home, with caregivers for almost 2 years now. Some resistance to being 1 among many kids in class, and some resentment for no longer getting that attention level from authority figures is expected, and normal. Talk to them about it, focus on the positives (like having lunch with their friends).
Show them reality of the pandemic, and use it reinforce good habits
This is applicable to slightly older children. Please help them understand the infectious nature of the virus, how it spreads, and it’s mutations. Make it a science lesson. Use this to reinforce habits like handwashing, safe distancing, mask wearing etc.
Keep communication channels open to help with anxiety
Children can have many anxieties around new rules, reflecting their caregiver’s misgivings, the dangers of the virus and of catching the infection. Be honest and calm about the reality of the infection, and be the correct source of your child’s information. Monitor channels of communication that may indulge in scaremongering. Ask your child how they are feeling, and to be open about their fears. Be their safe space.
Image courtesy NUH
Get back into routine
Nothing works better than to get back into the school routine. Wake up at the designated time, breakfast, studies, lunch, some playtime or activities, homework, dinner and sleep. Children thrive on routine. A routine, some sense of stability will help them feel supported in these wild times.
Understand that these are unprecedented times. Nothing is certain. As caregivers, be flexible and give them some control on their life. If there is a day when they REALLY don’t want to go to school, let it be. Cut them some slack. It’s really alright.
Show them healthy ways to cope
Encourage interests like drawing, painting, baking, writing in a journal to provide them an outlet for their feelings and as a healthy way to cope. Best case, it’s a brand new hobby!
And finally, the basics:
- Normalise wearing masks
- Social Distancing
- Clean and sanitized hands
Washing hands at regular intervals with soap or using a good sanitizer can reduce the risks of spreading or contracting the virus. Children must be given demonstration and practice on keeping their hands clean by washing them for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, especially before and after eating, coughing/sneezing, or adjusting a face mask. CDC recommends a fun trick that may help younger children to maintain the recommended duration - Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
Children must be taught to follow good hand hygiene, cover their nose and mouth with elbows while coughing and sneezing and then washing their hands or using with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol content. It is best to keep reminding them not to touch their, eyes, nose and mouth to foster protective hygiene habits.
- Warning symptoms
- High nutrient diets
Returning to school, adjusting to the new teaching models and classroom environs may cause anxiety in many children and caregivers. But children are more resilient and flexible than adults, they are sometimes even better at coping with stress.
Classroom experience is irreplaceable and a very memorable part of ones early life. As caregivers and mentors, being patient and providing reassurance will play a big role in empowering them to make up for the lost school time in a more responsible way
So lets look beyond the pandemic and make them “back to school’ ready!