Back for the first time… in a long time
After an immense amount of change in a short period of time, families are trying to prepare for a new school start that will likely be different than any other they have ever experienced. Parents and students are feeling a lot of excitement, anxiety and fear about the unknown. Here are some tips to navigate this unusual time and ease the transition of your young ones as this new school year unfolds.
Let them be heard
One of the most important things parents can do as they prepare their children to begin this unique new school year is give them time and space to express their emotions. Wendy Segars, Nesbitt Discovery Academy Counselor for Buncombe County Schools, said the biggest thing for children and adults is the need to feel heard.
“Simply acknowledging your child's emotions and validating how they feel is important for them to know that everything they are going through and feeling is OK,” she said. “If we try to minimize or discourage them from talking, we are essentially discouraging them from processing the event, and without processing, it is hard to move forward.”
Segars said it is also important to help them find a creative outlet for their emotions, especially for children that find it hard to verbalize their feelings.
“Have them write, color, paint and play to work through some of their emotions,” she said. “Children are incredibly resilient, when they are given the healthy support and space to process their emotions.”
Embrace the unknown with them
Families have had to cope with an incredible level of stress and worry, creating a hotbed of anxiety among parents and children.
“Anxiety can be described as fear of the future or unknown,” Segars said. “Not having experience with something new can create this feeling of anxiety in someone of any age. By reminding your child all they have been able to accomplish thus far (crazy schedule, using new online tools, adjusting to working from home, getting creative with their space, etc.) they may feel more confident in entering this new unknown. Reassure them that you will be with them and there for them no matter what. Letting children know that it is OK to be in the ‘unknown’ so to speak, but with your support, lets them feel more comfortable and better able to deal with the anxiety that can arise.”
Use and practice grounding tools
Parents can help their children and themselves by practicing grounding tools when the inevitable back-to-school jitters arise. Start by helping your child identify when they are feeling anxious.
“You may want to ask them, where do you feel anxious in your body? Or what happens to you physically when you feel anxious? Sometimes it could be sweaty palms, a tight stomach or clenching of the jaw,” Segars said.
When children mentally focus on the immediate world around them, they can better adjust and adapt to what is happening, rather than being paralyzed by thinking about the unknown future.
Segars shared examples of grounding activities your child can use when he or she feels anxious:
· List 5 red (or whatever color you choose) things in the room.
· Put your hands on your stomach and make it very big for four counts, then hold it for four counts, then release it for four counts.
· Sit in a chair and put the bottom of your hands on the chair. Pull as hard as you can on the seat while remaining seated in it for 10 seconds, then release.
Help them prepare for the new normal
Parents can help prepare their children for the new normal at school by getting as much information as possible and sharing it with their children. They can even model new behaviors they might experience in a socially distanced school setting and practice correct safety measures at home. Remind them why social distancing is important and show what 6 feet looks like, maybe by walking around a hula hoop.
Mark the new school year with a celebratory event
Though many students could still be learning in a remote setting or hybrid class schedule, celebrating the start of the school year can give them an optimistic spin on an otherwise stressful and anxious time. Consider having a special meal, creating a back-to-school scavenger hunt to spark learning or even having a distanced cookout with select friends or family.