Every fall brings butterflies to kids’ stomachs.
Back-to-School is never easy, but now that more and more schools are returning to physical classrooms, kids need to fully socialize for the first time in a while. It’s a lot to worry about on top of classes.
Check out these tips for the upcoming school year from thought leaders with expertise in childhood development and family psychology:
Be open and welcoming. Have you ever been to a party or meeting where you have not been invited? It’s very awkward to be there…right? Being in a place or in a room where you are invited, respected, and welcomed is key to being comfortable and able to flourish. As you begin planning to welcome your new students, think about establishing and maintaining a learning environment where students feel comfortable, validated, respected, and affirmed for who they are.
Celebrate success and collaboration. It is up to us as educators to recognize the influence our students’ race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and cultural background plays on their development and personalities. Through intentional activities, you can learn about your students’ individuality and assets. Be sure to constantly reassure students that you have a high expectation regardless of their background. Empower them by teaching them self-advocacy skills and guidelines on monitoring their own successes. Build a community of collaboration with staff, community members, families or students’ significant adults to ensure your student success. ¡Juntos se puede! Enjoy & embrace human variability—is normal & beneficial.
—Emily Francis, ESL teacher and author of If You Only Knew: Letters from an Immigrant Teacher
Establish and stick to a routine. Our current condition of COVID, war, economic instability, and school shootings has created unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty about our future wellbeing and safety. Our minds and bodies thrive on routine and consistency. Your routine should include a regular bedtime, wind down time before bed, and at least one meal around the same time (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).
Set aside time to discuss any worries or concerns your child has. You don’t need a lengthy discussion, but simply a touchpoint each day that your child can come to rely upon. Affective labeling is a powerful tool that helps diffuse anxiety by assigning words to feelings. Often children don’t know how they feel and instead respond to distress with meltdowns or acting out their frustrations. The overwhelm of uncertainty can intensify their emotional distress. Use the daily debriefing as a time to help them identify how they feel with words.
—Dr. Tracey Marks, psychiatrist, YouTube sensation, and author of Why Am I So Anxious?
Prepare for big emotions. It takes a lot of energy to adjust to a new routine and get to know new teachers and classmates. As one of my favorite kindergarten teachers reminds families, it takes most children six weeks to adjust to a new school year. Those after-school tantrums are normal and don’t mean they are having a terrible time at school!
Create a predictable after-school routine, including a snack and some downtime. Kids often hold in their emotions during the day. Undoubtedly, at least one thing happens every day that makes them feel worried, sad, or confused. Those feelings often come spilling out in the safety of home. And when your child does have a meltdown, stay close and stay calm. The storm will pass, and then we can help them work through the emotions behind it.
—Deborah Farmer Kris, child development expert and author of the All the Time series
Validate your feelings and find others who will do the same. Emotions exist for a reason, and when they get intense and negative, one of the best ways to manage is to connect with another human who doesn’t judge you for your experience. Find students who get you and will listen and validate you instead of telling you to join the chess club (unless chess is totally your jam.) If you cannot find someone who will support you, check out your on-campus mental health resources. They often have programs tailored to many types of experiences that are not always well advertised.
Stop “doom-scrolling”. Social media connection is amazing AND programmed to create more content similar to what you are viewing. So if you’re looking at sad or stressful photos on Instagram, Instagram will send you more sad and stressful photos. We’ve all gone down that rabbit hole. Instead, contemplate sensory experiences that bring you joy, calm, balance, stillness, happiness, and positive nostalgia.
—Caitlin Billings, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and author of In Our Blood
Credit our teachers and staff for taking on the burden of a pandemic and providing a safe learning environment for our children. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and teachers, staff, and students have been resilient and continue to learn in a changing environment with more rules and responsibilities than ever.
Allow health changes to remain effective. Daily Health Screenings, indoor mask mandates, sanitizing stations, handwashing protocols, and social distancing in and out of the classroom are just a few changes that we have seen be an effective way to keep our schools open and limit the number of COVID-19 infections. Paring these changes with the increasing number of vaccinations in our youth has allowed us to move towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
—Jamey Dogom, educator and co-author of the But Why series
Get back into a routine. Routines give us predictability and structure. The National Institute of Health suggests that teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep per night and younger kids need even more. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep so that the transition back to school will be easier for you. Also, eat well with regularly scheduled meals and healthy snacks that energize you and make sure to participate in regular exercise so that you have a healthy stress outlet.
Take healthy risks. The Pandemic has created a great deal of anxiety, fear and isolation in students. It is time to say “yes” to opportunities to get back out there. Try out for that sports team you are considering. Join a club or volunteer for an organization you believe in. If COVID taught us anything it is that our community matters. Make sure that you are surrounding yourself with the best possible people you can.
—Alyson Nerenberg, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and author of No Perfect Love: Shattering the Illusion of Flawless Relationships
Supercharge your note-taking. We can’t write nearly as well as we can type—and that’s a good thing. Writing forces you to process and interpret what you’re listening to in order to record what’s important. Not only do you learn better and faster, you have 4x more ideas, you’re 3x more focused, and you remember over 10% better than when you type.
Make time your friend. Ever start (and finish) an assignment the night before it’s due? Yeah, we’ve all done it. If you can shake that bad habit and start your homework the day it’s given to you, you’ll gain a load of benefits. First, you won’t feel pressure to finish, which actually makes the assignment easier to complete. Second, you’ll be able to sleep on your work and double check it the next day. And third, you can use the extra time to take your favorite assignments really far—and create something that you can truly be proud of.
—Joey Cofone, Founder & CEO of Baronfig, award-winning designer and entrepreneur, and author of The Laws of Creativity
All photo courtesy from PR By the Book
A proud native-New Yorker, ErinNicole Conti completed her Masters Degree in Publishing: Digital and Print Media at New York University. When not obsessively reading, she catches up on science-fiction and dramedy shows with her adorable cat.