Preparing Your Child for a Positive Start to the New School Year
As the summer quickly comes to a close, parents are preparing their children for the new school year. Many of us are still in a bit of a whirlwind from last school year and all of the new challenges we faced with quarantine, distanced learning, and the new COVID lifestyle. With some continued uncertainty about what this upcoming school year may look like, it is important to prepare for and anticipate some possible challenges. Preparing children for potential emotional challenges will help them be resilient, have a positive outlook, and maintain good mental health.
Get a Head Start on Your Routine
The lazy days of summer always present an opportunity for students to slip into unhealthy sleeping habits, which often translates into a lack of motivation for anything school-related. Many students have not followed a normal school time routine in almost 18 months. Some returned to school full time last year, while others remained on a hybrid or virtual learning model. With this in mind, a few weeks prior to the start of school, work with your child to re-establish routines, wake up times, morning schedules, bedtime, etc. Helping to establish routines early will better prepare them for the upcoming schedule change and minimize the exhaustion of returning to a full school day.
Help Your Student Get Organized
Since many students have not been back in their school building full time in quite some time, they may need some help getting themselves organized for the start of a new school year. Assisting them in collecting their school supplies, reorganizing their backpacks and setting up their home-based workstation will help reduce frustration and anxiety about the start of school. If possible, a visit to the school prior to the first day will enable them to understand where they need to go and help lower frustration. Check lists, calendars and color coded folders can be helpful organizational tools.
Be Mindful of Anxieties
Some students may find entering the school setting on a full time basis with all of the other students daunting. For many, the last eighteen months have been isolating with limited social network opportunities. With COVID continuing to pose safety concerns, students may feel uncertain about the amount of exposure they will receive in the building or anxious to see larger groups of friends who they have not seen in a while. Some students will be going to school in an unfamiliar building, and some are nervous about how they will perform academically back in person. Many incoming seniors are concerned about GPA, SATs, and applying for colleges that they were unable to visit this past year due to restrictions, which causes a lot of anxiety. Talk with your child about their feelings regarding a return to school and find ways to be supportive about their concerns.
Check in with Your Children - Maybe More Often than Normal
Sadly, failure rates were unprecedented last school year. Many students felt overwhelmed with their academics. I saw these issues plague even the brightest students last year. Many students report feeling as though they retained less of the material they learned on virtual learning, or they felt they were not learning as well as they normally would. Despite recovery credits offered in summer school, students very well may be behind academically in some subjects. Check in with your child about their homework, ask if they need additional help, and don’t be afraid to reach out to the school for more assistance. If needed, help them stay organized on their assignments and utilize their planner to stay on track. Check in on their emotional wellbeing as well and keep an open dialogue about their stress and mental health concerns.
Encourage a Positive Attitude About School Safety Policies
As the start of the school year gets closer, some counties are rolling out mask mandates and other safety related changes due to continued concerns for COVID. While not all households may agree with the protocols that will be enforced, help to encourage a positive mindset with your child about the new protocols and what their responsibilities might include to uphold safety. This will only help secure a healthier school environment, and hopefully a faster return to normal school life.
While this list is not exhaustive, I hope that these suggestions are helpful in promoting a healthy and positive start to the school year. Your student’s school is available for support, and they’re excited to see them back in the building. Brook Lane therapists are available in every middle and high school in Washington and Frederick Counties and several elementary schools. They provide therapy on site, eliminating the need for parents to provide transportation for these beneficial services. If you find that your child is in need of mental health support, talk with their guidance counselor about the free therapy services provided by Brook Lane or call Brook Lane’s Intake/Admissions Office at 301-733-0331 x 1703.
Laura Zukowski, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor with Brook Lane. She is currently providing therapy services at Boonsboro Middle and High Schools and Williamsport High School as a collaborative effort between Brook Lane and Washington County Public Schools to assist students struggling with mental and behavioral concerns.