Getting ready: Tips for preparing for school in uncertain times

After a spring semester with remote learning and its many complications for students, parents and educators, schools are reopening in the fall. While each state is dictating its own guidelines for this reopening, it looks like many independent schools and public school districts will opt for some type of hybrid learning–a mix of in-person and online instruction. These hybrid models differ according to age groups but the details have yet to be ironed out.

The general consensus is that primary school students need more face-to-face instruction that allows for safe distancing and mask-free breaks. Secondary school students, those in middle and high school who tended to adapt better to online learning,  will likely face some classroom time alternating with virtual instruction. It’s quite possible that these students won’t attend school daily to accommodate recommendations about social distancing and class size. But, with so much still unknown about the fall semester and information about COVID changing daily, parents, kids and educators are understandably anxious and uncertain about what to expect. How can you prepare yourself and your child or teen for the start of school in this constantly shifting situation?

School closures in the spring and the quick shift to virtual learning combined with job, housing and food insecurity for many people led to high levels of stress and frustration for families. Kids faced losses of daily routines that kept them on track and organized, extracurricular activities that brought them self-confidence, fitness and fun, and regular social interactions with peers and caring adults. They felt angry, discouraged and lonely. As parents, you did the best you could in a tough situation: you managed work, health and safety concerns while making sure your kids with learning differences kept up with their schoolwork. You became their teachers, tutors and advocates–roles, frankly, you were simply not trained for. It’s hard to imagine repeating this scenario again this fall, especially for those of you who have returned to work outside of the home.

Although many things about school remain in flux, now is a good time to begin preparing your kids and yourself emotionally and mentally for the re-entry. Start with these steps:

  1. Empathize with their anxiety:  As children and teens face returning to school, they’ll have mixed emotions. On the one hand, they look forward to seeing friends, reconnecting with teachers and embracing a ‘normal’ structure to their lives. On the other hand, many kids will be nervous about the changes to school, possible COVID contamination and social interactions. You can best assist alternative learners by empathizing now with whatever feelings they have and normalizing them. It’s hard for adults to understand what’s happening; it’s almost impossible for kids.
  2. Expect an adjustment period: When kids with ADHD feel anxious and nervous, they can be more inflexible than usual. They may act out their concerns with increased anger, aggression or isolation. Talk about the specifics of their worries, explore possible solutions together and offer pertinent information to answer any questions. Facts and knowledge when shared appropriately alleviates anxiety. Talking about the process of adjustment amidst this unfamiliar of this situation will help them understand that adapting to this new normal takes time and practice. 
  3. Collaborate on weekly family meetings:  Although the specifics of school are still unknown, you’ve got to explore and plan for options. When parents and kids collaborate on setting up a learning plan for this fall, the transition back to the new academic picture will flow more smoothly. Make a date and time for a short weekly family meeting to check-in.  This is when parents and kids discuss what’s going well, what could be different and how to make those changes.

I’ll be addressing specific tools for the transition back to school in future blogs. In the meantime, focus on the present. Things are unfolding so quickly that it’s important not to get ahead of yourself. Try not to worry. You’ll have the information you need soon enough and then we can figure out what to do next.