How to Help Your Child Adjust to School Reopening in 2020
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When schools closed in the Spring of 2020 because of Covid-19, parents and children everywhere had to find ways (in the unknown that was Covid-19) to adjust to a new normal during a pandemic.
Businesses closed, jobs lost, social engagements gone, activities that we knew stopped, and life became very different for everyone in the world.
For my family, I feel that it took us a few months to adjust. I was fortunate to be primarily already working from home, but as anyone that works from home knows, it looks completely different (aka not productive) when you’re doing so with children at home.
The reality is that distance learning was challenging for most parents and children.
Distance learning at that time was a bit of a..well, hot mess. Schools did the best they could, but it quickly exposed how not digitally savvy schools and some teachers were. And let’s not forget, they also had it hard because many too were working while also having their children at home.
But, phew that passed. And summer came along; school year came to an end. Still, though, many parents had to shift their work or reduce their income to adjust to having children at home.
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It took us months to adjust, right? And for some, they are still working on adapting, and now schools are reopening this Fall 2020; and opening utterly different than we’ve known school to be.
With school starting, we need to adjust (again) to a new normal.
We have a new, NEW, normal to adjust. (And also, parents are split when it comes to whether the opening is safe or not, and the climate of Covid-19 is highly polarized)
But in all this, we have our children. And our children also need to adjust to another new normal, with schools looking different than when they left in Spring 2020.
In this article, you will learn how to help your child adjust to a new normal (again), reduce school anxiety, and adjust to schooling in a pandemic.
As parents, it’s on us to help children adjust to this new school life. And in this blog post, I will cover how to help children through a new normal in a way that normalizes their feelings while teaching resilience.
This summer may have looked different than other summers. Maybe more media, more downtime, parents at home working, not seeing family as much as usual, vacation plans changed. (And believe me, if you just did what you could to manage in the summer, do not feel guilty. So did every parent out there)
But now we are in a new school year, and by school year, I mean anything from daycare to school-age children. It’s time to bring back some normalcy.
8 Proven Ways to Best Parent through School Reopening in 2020
1. Have a consistent bed time for children
Having a consistent sleep and wake schedule helps adjust your circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is the internal process that regulates sleep and wake cycles. And it depends on consistency to do so.
Children ages 6-12 years old benefit from having 9 - 12 hours of sleep at night (by the way, for adults is 7 - 9 hours a night of sleep). Children in preschool and kindergarten need 11-12 hours of sleep a night.
Considering that a preschool or school-age child needs to wake up early, this means that bedtime is somewhere between 7 pm - 10 pm (depending on the age of the child). The younger the child, the earlier the bedtime.
I aim for an 8pm bedtime for my younger children (except my teens, who go to bed at 9:30 pm and 10 pm respectively but also can wake up later). And their day’s routine after school is set up so that bedtime can happen on time. I’ll cover more on having a consistent routine in this blog article.
Even on non-school days, you’ll want to wake up your children at the same consistent time. Sleeping in or having later bedtimes on weekends has been shown to throw off a circadian rhythm.
Our brains need to be refreshed and restored each day, and this happens in sleep. The more hours before midnight that we receive, the better for restoration.
Have a consistent bedtime and wake routine to achieve good rest and health for your child.
(Do you need more help in setting up routines using Positive Parenting? Click here for Positive Parent Coaching.)
2. Teach your child emotional literacy
For younger children, discussing feelings can happen during play. Be mindful to listen for when your child wants to discuss and express their feelings.
When your child wants to talk about their emotions, embody active listening. Your primary role in listening to your child’s feelings is not to fix or reassure, but to validate as an active listener.
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How to be an active listener:
Be Present: look at your child's eyes, let them know that your mind, body, and spirit is present for what they have to share with you.
Verbally Paraphrase: repeat in your own words what your child has told you.
Ask Questions: if you don't understand a part, ask for clarification so that you can know what they have to say.
Respond Appropriately: be mindful of their body language and reactions and respond likewise appropriately.
Basically, create the safe space your child needs to express feelings without judgment.
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4. Teach kids anxiety-reducing techniques
All of us experience anxiety. And anxiety can overtake us when we invite it in and let it set up house. A child can own their power by being able to reduce their stress and fears through mindfulness.
I find asking my kids, “How does that feel?” opens them up to express their feelings. And I use that opportunity to help them connect their feelings to their body by asking them, “Where on your body do you feel that?”
Children often feel anxiety and fear in their bellies. This experience is a great chance to teach them then how to reduce anxiety through somatic experiences such as swaying, dancing, patting (more on that below), and also how to calm anxiety through mindfulness.
Here are three of my favorite anxiety techniques:
The amygdala is the part of the brain that that experiences emotions. And when anxiety begins to rise, it is the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) activated by amplifying the messages coming from the amygdala.
If you’ve seen a child amid anxiety, you’ll see them in high alert to that emotion. It’s coming from the amplified messages coming from the dACC. But there’s a way to reduce the high alert and create more balance (reduce anxiety).
With five things, a child will ask herself these questions and answer them one at a time:
- What are 5 things I can see
- What are 4 things I can touch
- What are 3 things I can taste
- What are 2 things I can pick up
- What is the strongest thing I see (besides myself)
Ask your child to envision that she is like a superhero that can receive powerful white light that takes over her body and removes all darkness (aka the cloud of anxiety above her). She’s so full of light that it’s almost as if her fingers are shooting bright white light from her fingertips.
This technique brings out your child’s inner resources and strength and uses imagery, which has a positive effect on how we view the world. It’s also a powerful tool to use to reduce anxiety.
Somatic Therapy to Reduce Anxiety
Somatic therapy is connecting the mind and body to reduce stress and trauma.
I use somatic therapy in my hypnotherapy practice, and it’s a powerful combination for removing blocks and overcoming the trauma of any kind.
You can use this technique to teach your child how to connect his body to his feelings and release the feelings of anxiety and fear. This is a combination of two methods.
Ask your child to hug himself tightly and to sway slightly. The feeling of being hugged can be enough to make a child feel that he is ok and protected. Swaying is a way to release the feeling being held in our bodies from anxiety, similarly to how dancing helps people feel free and refreshed.
Next, ask your child to place his hand on his belly and to expand the belly with each inhales. The exhale should be slow and steady. Repeat these breathing techniques as often as needed to reduce anxiety.
5. Be age-appropriate in your discussions on Covid-19
For younger children (ages 13 and younger) I recommend that you keep things simple when giving information to young children. (Preteens and teens may need more details but for younger children.)
If you don't do this, you'll want to monitor what media news your children may have access to besides a TV. Keep in mind that Youtube and apps such as TikTok will also feature news clips disturbing for children.
Young children need to receive filtered information when it comes to current world issues and pandemic. And it should be given in a very simplified way. Most importantly, your child should know that this is not permanent, that our current lifestyle navigating Covid-19 and school is temporary.
6. Present a team spirit between parent and school
When it comes to the school opening guidelines, you should align yourself with the school (at least your child should see you aligned). Children now do school differently than before, and you may or may not agree, but if they are in school, they need you to align with what they are learning and practicing at school.
If your child feels that you disagree with the school (who is an authority in their life), it will confuse your child and reduce the level of security and protection your child feels, making it harder to adjust to their new normal.
This is not to say that you don’t get to have your own opinions, but these should not be expressed where your child can hear you.
The same goes for adult discussions on Covid-19. Even when a child seems to be doing something else and not listening, they are listening (something I’m sure you already know). It’s on us as parents to carefully filter our language when our children are present.
Favorite Bedtime Books for Children
7. Keep a routine and be consistent
Your routine can make a huge difference in your child’s life. Children do best when they know what to expect. And because children do not adjust well to transitions, they need a routine that helps them transition gently from one activity to another.
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I’ll share with you an example of a routine for younger children in school.
Wake up at the same time each day
Spend a few minutes adjusting to being awake
Get dressed for school
Put snacks and lunches in school bag and go to school
Get ready for the next day (set outfit aside, pack school books)
Personal hygiene (bath time)
Downtime before bedtime
For media time, set a timer for how long media will last so that your child can transition easily from media. If your child is watching a show, make sure that you allow the show to finish before moving on to the next activity.
8. Teach resilience through problem-solving
When fears arise, don’t just reassure. Teach resilience by problem-solving with your child.
For example, if your child is afraid that school may close again (and your child should know that there’s a chance school may close), instead of saying “Don’t worry about it! It’ll be fine! You’ll be fine!” instead acknowledge the fear and help your child problem-solve.
- “You feel scared that school will close. Tell me more about your feelings.”
- “Where do you feel this fear in your body?”
- “Ok, if the school does close, what will happen?”
- “What can we do if the school closes?”
Questions like these help your child develop ways to manage their fear by giving them the power to come up with solutions should their fear become a reality. It teaches your child resilience and relies on their inner strength to find answers to a situation.
Like many of you, I also have children going through a new normal in school. Each child has their personality, and you may find yourself adjusting how you approach each child in helping them adapt to a new normal.
Children benefit from having the ability to reduce anxiety, depend on a routine, practice self-care, refresh their brains and bodies, and strengthen their ability to rely on their inner resources and knowledge to problem-solve. These also apply to you, as you again navigate this new normal with your child.