Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Jul. 31, 2020
5 ways to help your child adapt to the new school year
By Robin Smelzer, Middle School Counselor
One thing is certain in the upcoming school year: a lot of things are going to be different.
From wearing masks to new classroom spaces, the familiar learning environment will be altered as Canterbury implements protocols to make it safe for students to attend classes in person.
Parents can help their children adapt to these changes before school starts and in the first several weeks of the year. It starts with your deep knowledge of your child. Everyone handles change differently. Keep your child's style in mind as you navigate the weeks ahead. If they have a difficult time with transitions, the changes at school may be a lot to take in, and they may need some extra TLC.
Speaking of TLC, take some time for yourself. As adults, building in some time to practice self-care can help you be a better version of yourself for your children. I am sure you have heard the saying, “When flying, you have to put on your oxygen mask first before you help others.” Taking a walk or some deep breaths, reading a book, exercising, etc., can help relieve some of your own worry about the unknown this year.
1. Take time to talk and listen to your children. Children need a reassuring adult to listen to them and really hear what they are saying. Providing a safe, judgement-free space for kids to process their feelings is helpful. There are no bad feelings or right or wrong feelings, just feelings. Some kids are talkers and some are not, and that’s okay. Asking too many questions, too quickly, and putting them on the spot isn’t the best approach to get kids to talk, nor does it feel good! Instead, try asking open-ended questions, such as “How did that make you feel?” or statements such as “Tell me more.” Activities such as walking the dog, shooting hoops, art projects, cooking, and playing board games are all great ways to connect and provide opportunities for conversations to naturally develop.
2. Preparing children in advance for the changes they may experience will go a long way in helping them adjust.
Review Canterbury’s reopening roadmap
and talk with your child in advance about what to expect in developmentally appropriate ways. When talking about wearing masks, use language that focuses on being helpful. Saying, “We wear masks to help protect others,” rather than, “We wear masks because we don’t want to get sick,” helps children think about how they can contribute and make a difference for the community.
3. Offer limited choices. Help your children focus on what they can control. We can’t control that we have to wear masks. We can control what type of face covering or what color mask we choose. If your child is mask-averse, take the time to talk, listen, and figure out what’s really going on. Is there an issue you can address, such as the mask style, that would make it easier for them? At the same time, too many choices for kids can be overwhelming. Giving a choice of two masks rather than a pile of 10 can feel better.
4. Routines provide children with a sense of safety.
Keep dinner, bedtime, and other routines in place as much as possible. Also, with the start of the new school year, it can be a good time to develop new routines such as washing hands, checking for COVID-19 symptoms
, and choosing and wearing masks
outside your home. Following a morning routine can help start the day off on a positive note. Mornings can be a time to connect over breakfast or in the car on the way to school. Younger children may like to play word games, sing songs, or listen to music. During your morning routine, try to limit the news, which may ramp up children’s anxiety -- and possibly yours too. More times than not, children are listening to the radio or TV, even when it seems they are not paying attention.
5. Focus on the positive. Finding things to be thankful for, or taking moments to notice nature, can be positive. Something my family implemented during the spring was a daily theme. We had Meaningful Mondays, Thankful Tuesdays, Wonderful Wednesdays, Thoughtful Thursdays, and Friendly Fridays. Okay, I admit I went a bit overboard on that idea, but it gave my kids something positive to focus on. The idea was, depending on the day, you come to the dinner table and report or contribute to the conversation. For example, on Mondays, everyone shared a quote or story that was meaningful to them. On Tuesdays, everyone shared something they were thankful for, on Wednesdays, everyone shared a moment they found wonderful from their day, and so on. Having three adolescent boys participate sometimes was challenging, and hilarious at times, but it consistently helped us focus on the positive and good in the world.
There’s no doubt school will be different this year, but it also can be a learning opportunity for both parents and children as we take a deep breath and learn to adapt together. With a positive mindset, it can even be rewarding for all of us.