Across the country, many students are finally starting to learn in person again and the summer camps are already full. After spending so many months at home, having these outlets can be a relief – but they can also seem daunting to young children who are reluctant to leave their parents and aren’t sure what to expect.
“What underlies fear is uncertainty,” said Mary Alvord, a Maryland psychologist who specializes in treating children and adolescents with anxiety and behavioral problems. “And there has been uncertainty for over a year, almost at every level.”
If you are concerned that your child is having trouble adapting to school or camp, experts recommend using these strategies to adapt.
Recognize and validate what your child is feeling.
Young children and some children with special needs may not have the vocabulary to express how they are feeling. Look for behaviors that indicate they are feeling anxious, such as crying, irritability, abdominal pain, or attachment, said Dr. Alvord.
It is important for parents to acknowledge and acknowledge these feelings. Dr. Alvord suggested a possible script: “I know it was hard, I know you like it at home. I know there are a lot of things you don’t know and it can be scary. “
You can also name several reasons a child may feel upset, for example: “It can be difficult because you’ve never been there before you don’t know the kids, you don’t know the teacher.”
Then finish on a positive note, “I know you can do it and we will find ways to help you.”
Catherine Halberg, a school psychologist at an elementary school in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, was amazed at how resilient the children were in her school when they got back to face-to-face study, even the youngest who had never been in the building before.
“I think the biggest problems with lack of social connection will be much more common in middle and high school,” she added.
Also, try to keep your own worries or fears at bay. It’s okay to acknowledge your own fears, but use this as an opportunity to model positive coping skills. For example, you might say, “Sometimes I’m nervous about doing new things, but when I’m scared I stop and take a few deep breaths to calm myself.”
Introduce mindfulness to your children.
Mindfulness is the experience of being open and aware in the present moment without making judgment or letting the mind wander. Being more mindful is something that both adults and children can practice, and it can help children identify and deal with harsh emotions that they might experience in the first few days of school or camp.
First, think about how your child is likely to feel in the first few days or weeks, then give them something they can do to make them feel better, advised Mary Louise Hemmeter, professor of special education at Vanderbilt University.
For example, if you think your child may be scared, tell them they can ask to sit with a friend or ask the teacher if they can sit near them in class. Just don’t forget to give the teacher a heads up.
Ann Densmore, an educational psychologist who has advised private and public schools for more than 25 years, said several kindergarten teachers she knows parents recommend show their children a three-minute video titled “Just Breathe” by Julie Bayer Salzman and Josh Salzman to show. It shows how some children use mindfulness when they become angry or fearful.
A little girl in the video compared these complex feelings to a glass full of glitter and water when shaken. “This is what your mind would look like, and it’s like spinning around and then you don’t have time to think,” she said. After identifying these feelings, the children describe how they are trying to find space to be alone and relax and breathe deeply, which helps them calm down.
“I think kids need this mental downtime more than they did before the pandemic,” said Dr. Densmore.
May 7, 2021 at 11:57 p.m. ET
Establish a new routine.
If your kids went to sleep later than usual and woke up late during the pandemic, start them on a new schedule at least a few weeks before school or camp, the experts said.
Build a morning routine that feels comfortable, safe, and nourishing. Consider incorporating something calming like reading a book together.
“The last thing you want to do is frighten the kid to school just because the morning was a hassle,” said Dr. Inhibitors.
On the first day of school or camp – even if it’s just the first full day deviating from a hybrid schedule – try to mark the transition in a special way, Ms. Halberg said. For example, consider a new outfit or backpack, or cook a favorite breakfast.
Or you can create a new routine by giving your child a keepsake to bring to school every day. For example, you can take a picture of yourself and put it in a locket or stick it on a piece of paper that goes in the lunch box, said Dr. Densmore. She remembered a little boy who had a small stone in his pocket that his mother had given him.
Caitlin Smith, 43, mother of two Concord, NH, said when their daughter entered kindergarten they picked out matching butterfly bracelets.
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“Anytime she missed me, she could touch it or look at it and know I had the same and that if I missed her I could do the same,” Ms. Smith said. “It was just a nice way to keep in touch.”
You can also put a visual schedule in your child’s backpack so they know what to expect, said Dr. Inhibitors.
Talk to the teacher ahead of time to find out what the school day will be like, then use simple pictures, drawings, or words to illustrate each activity of the day. The final picture would be of yourself or whoever picks up your child at the end of the day.
Communicate with your child’s teacher.
It is important to chat with teachers and support people who have served your child during virtual learning: what recommendations do you have to help your child return to school?
In addition, said Dr. Hemmeter, prepare information to be sent to your child’s new teacher and consider writing it from the child’s perspective. For example, “Things You Should Know About Me: When I’m scared, I cry a lot. Things that help me when I’m scared are: getting someone to read a book, making a friend to work with, or working on my iPad. “
Ask your teacher what the submission will look like. When you come to school and have to leave your kids at the front door instead of in the classroom, you don’t want this to be a surprise. See if you can arrange a quick tour of the classroom in advance and describe the rules for distancing, hand washing, etc.
If your child has a customized education program that supports children with disabilities, contact your child’s IEP team. Dr. Hemmeter suggested finding out how the team can support your child’s return to school and whether it is necessary to meet on time.
The Autism Little Learners website has several illustrated explanatory stories useful to any child and includes topics such as back to school.
Don’t talk about school too often or too soon.
As school approaches, you can discuss what your child’s classroom and schedule will be, but try not to bring it up too often.
“I believe in not preparing children too early,” said Dr. Densmore. “Don’t keep telling them for weeks or they’ll think about it a lot.”
But every child is different, she added. Some children may need a little more preparation if they haven’t attended preschool during the pandemic and are starting kindergarten for the first time in the fall.
One way to prepare for school is to organize small play dates with other children attending your child’s school or summer camp. That way, they can look forward to seeing some friends on the first day.
“The good news here is that children are inherently social,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “We are the most social species on the planet. As soon as we get a sense of what it’s like to be with people again, we will eat it up. “