Back-to-school emotional checklist

September 16, 2020

Students will be experiencing many changes this year, whether learning while wearing masks at socially distanced desks or seeing their teachers and peers through a virtual screen. The previous school year ended abruptly and left many children experiencing a sense of loss and confusion.

As adults we can logically acknowledge that this is a weird time, but we must continue moving and achieve our set goals for the day. For children, their capacity to fully understand the situation is limited. They have experienced shifts in social and academic connections, loss of routine and increased fear. As the new school year begins, it will be important to talk with children about upcoming challenges and opportunities, helping them manage their expectations and heightened emotions. Here are some suggestions to help emotionally prepare children for the upcoming school year and try to ease some of their stress.

1. Be honest with children that a lot is unknown. Not knowing can increase feelings of anxiety and stress. Naming it and being honest about it helps children realize they are not alone and what they feel is understandable in this current climate. “I don’t know” can be an acceptable answer to your child’s questions. There will be many changes this year in the structure of schooling; teachers, parents and students all have questions and worries about how it will go. Let's just start by normalizing that this is a strange time and it's understandable for there to be a lot of big feelings and not a lot of answers. Be honest about how hard this is; share your feelings and support your children in opening up about their feelings. This helps teach appropriate self-expression.

2. As best you can, try to create and maintain routine and structure. Lack of consistency and predictability can make children feel emotionally insecure, increasing anxiety and distressing behaviors. Having structure in the day for learning, relaxation, physical activity and sleep will help children's overall well-being. Creating these expectations can also more quickly bring awareness to both you and your child if they start struggling academically and/or emotionally, before they fall too far behind.

3. Be present. During a time of uncertainty, we can't give a lot of answers, but we can be with our children in their feelings, confirming that we are there for them through thick and thin. We can't always fix the situation, but we can be with them in difficult times.

4. Parents, be kind to yourselves and encourage your children to be kind to themselves. This is a difficult time for everyone. Take a moment to just breathe together and slow down, without expectation of perfect results. This will help regulate everyone’s nervous systems. Once you feel calmer and more playful as parents, the stress in the home decreases, and the children feel calmer and less emotionally distressed.

5. Lastly, remember that this time is tough for most parents and you are not alone in this.

"At many times throughout their lives, children will feel like the world has turned topsy-turvy. It’s not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It’s knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.”
- Fred Rogers

Kelly Gordon is a licensed clinical social worker in Rehoboth and the owner of Embrace Wellness LLC.

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