5 Tips for a Successful Return to In-Person School During COVID-19
Kelty Centre, in collaboration with Drs. Catchpole and Anderson | September 2, 2020
Many parents and caregivers, as well as children and youth, are understandably feeling anxious about the return to school during COVID-19. For parents who are sending their children back to school in-person, the good news is there’s actually a number of concrete things you can do to make sure the transition back to school is a successful one for you and your child.
Dr. Rosalind Catchpole, Psychologist at BC Children’s Hospital and Dr. Sarah Anderson, Post-Doctoral Fellow, BC Children’s Hospital and UBC, share some tips below for BC families to try (note there is a webinar recording with even more tips at the bottom of this blog post):
- Identify what is still in your control and your child’s control - Focus on what’s in your control, rather than on the unknowns. While we all would prefer certainty, pandemic times are challenging our ‘flexibility’ muscles. Practice what you can do in the short term (e.g., the coming days or weeks) and try not to look too far ahead. Focus on the practical things that help to keep us all safe – like regular handwashing and socializing safely – rather than on the ‘what ifs.’
- Confidence is key – As a parent, your confidence is an essential part of helping your child transition back to school successfully. Developing and practicing confidence in your decision to send your child back to school in advance is key. Children pick up on our fear! If you find yourself doubting your decision, you might want to try writing down the reasons why you want your child to return to school and review them regularly. And most importantly, remember to communicate this confidence to your child – this will help both you and them keep anxiety in check. If you find yourself nervous about how a health condition may impact your child or family, it’s worth checking in with your family physician to make sure you have all the information you need to have confidence in your decision. Nothing is easy about this pandemic!
- Help your child prepare for school return - There’s actually a lot you can do to help your child prepare for return to school. Practice your routines now! This could include things like going over the morning routine, practicing the route you’ll take the school, and even doing a practice ‘drop off’ so your child knows what to expect. Going through these steps a few times before school actually starts will help your child get ‘back in the swing of things.’ It probably isn’t a bad idea for you either! Starting to get your child’s sleep schedule back on a ‘school schedule’ and eating healthy with regular meals and snacks are also ways you can start to get your child ready for return to school.
- Expect some anxiety – Most families are likely experiencing some level of anxiety or stress as they prepare for the return to school. However, if you’re ready for it, your own and your child’s anxiety won’t throw you off as much. Try some mindfulness activities as a family, and get outside together for some family fun when you can. It can also be helpful to practice scenarios with your child to help them know how to manage anxious feelings that may arise (e.g. deep breathing, running around on the playground at recess), and how to tackle challenging situations that may come up once they start school (e.g., if they are wearing a mask to school and their friends are not, practice how they can respond to questions about this).
- Reach out for help if you need it - It’s not a sign of failure or weakness to need some help ever – and especially right now. So many families are nervous right now, and understandably so. Connect with the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre to talk to a parent peer support worker, or talk to your family doctor or the administration or counsellors at your child’s school. Also have support networks in place for you as a parent or caregiver. Find a friend who will listen, keep you positive, and lift you up – and you can do the same for them! Social connection is essential for this hard work and we are stronger together. If your child is struggling and needs additional support, contact your local Child & Youth Mental Health team about mental health services available to them.
In the words of Dr. Bonnie Henry, let’s be kind during this extremely challenging time. To ourselves – because this isn’t easy! To our kids, who are also nervous, and finally to our kids’ teachers who are also navigating this uncertainty alongside us.
For more practical tools and strategies you can start using now to set your family up for a successful return to school, as well as tips for what you can do to increase your child’s willingness to attend school, and what to do if they refuse to go to school, watch our latest webinar on ‘Setting Children & Youth up for a Successful Return to School in the Era of COVID-19’ (see below). In addition, here are the powerpoint slides for this presentation. A podcast version of this webinar is available at keltymentalhealth.ca/podcast.