Wednesday, August 12, 2020

How to Help Kids Starting School for Fall 2020

With kids starting back in school this fall (and some that have already started), there are many different versions of what schools and students are doing this year.

Hybrid, virtual only pre-recorded, virtual only live classes, essential worker full time on-campus, some starting virtual then going in-person.  There are so many options, but no matter what your school is doing, it's going to all be different.

And each age has it's own struggles from Kindergarten and 1st graders learning to read, to elementary students needing lessons and one-on-one constant attention, to middle school and high schoolers missing the social skills, etc.  Not to mention children who rely on the food and meals given in public schools, to those without the parental support at home.

What can you do to help ease into this and lessen their anxiety?

1) Remember that anxiety feeds off uncertainty!  The more uncertain you feel, the more anxious you will be. No one knows when this pandemic will end or what the school year will bring, so we have to embrace the unknown, and expect worry to show up from it.  Easier said than done, I know!

But just call the worry by a name for your kids, and learn to talk to it. Say things like, "Yes, I know it's scary to not know what will happen and not have the answers, so when you feel that little butterfly in your tummy just say, 'oh hello there XYZ, I knew you would show up, it's going to be okay. Let's take a breath together and move on to our next activity'" etc.  Ignoring it won't make it go away, so just acknowledge it and them move on matter of factly.

2) Prepare your kids for any in-person school day. Talk to them about wearing a mask and the importance of staying 6 feet away from others. 6 feet is like a bicycle length away. Some schools have made video instructions kids can watch on how a day will look with wearing a mask or shield.

Talk to your kids about how to take a mask on or off if needed, how not to touch their faces and other things.  One good idea is to have an essential oil put on inside of it, such as lavender to help calm any anxiety.

Also of note too is to talk about if their mask comes off by accident or another child takes theirs off as well, or any other 'what if' scenario that could go wrong. We don't want to cause any additional anxiety, so teach them that mistakes happen, so if something goes wrong, what you can do about it?  Because believe me, there will be a lot of mistakes going on with social distancing when school starts!

If going in-person, go over how drop off and pick up will look like, carpool lines, eating lunch, walking down the hallways, how to ask for help from a teacher, etc.  

There will definitely be a lot of planning involved in this new normal on school campuses. New ways to go to the bathroom, washing hands, going to recess, etc.

As for masks, there are a lot of options out there, so you can Google things like 'breathable masks for kids' and accessories such as these expanders:

3) If learning virtually, take the time to set up a work station.

Desks are sold out everywhere lately, even at Ikea, but finding something that will fit in your lifestyle and your child is best so they can work under the most ideal conditions.  Whether it's a workstation in the kitchen, or if that has too many distractions, in their bedroom with the door closed, etc.

Have all their supplies within reach, such as pencils, notebooks, etc.

Invest in Google Wi-Fi routers for internet if needed to get the best connections around your house

Have all of the passwords, and websites typed up and posted if needed for logging onto their lessons

Have a schedule posted by their desk so they know what lessons they have for the week

Take the time to prepare your schedule as well, whether you are working at home, or a full time teacher/parent. You need to prepare your schedule for any work meetings, when to eat lunch, going on a walk to decrease your anxiety, dinner, activities, etc.

4) Start going to bed early a week before school starts.  Even though they may be learning from home, they will be starting school around 8 or 8:30am and need a good night's sleep. They have been relaxed all summer and need a week to get back to normal!  And kids benefit best on bedtime routine (more on that later).

5) Let's talk about how to decrease their anxiety:

-Routine!  Kids THRIVE on routine. They crave structure and do best when they have that in place, so going back to school should help decrease some of that anxiety (with schedules, etc). Again, knowing what comes next is huge in decreasing anxiety.  It's the unknown that increases it.  So help with any transitions you can.

-Worrying about school, Covid-19, etc is not problem solving.  If you 'what if'' constantly, give yourself a break. Stop imagining what things will look like.

-Worry does not prepare you, it just keeps you up at night!

-We all are feeling the stress of the pandemic. I barely have time for myself during the day, so at night after they get to bed is when I check emails, write blog posts, etc. And then I have to get sleep or I am not a happy person the next day, so that means maybe 1 hour of 'me' time at night- to watch TV that is not PG, or do anything that I wasn't able to do during the day. Okay, I could go on, but seriously, we are ALL feeling the stress, and kids may be feeling it even more than the grown-ups.

-One thing we need to remind ourselves is that kids feed off of our stress and anxiety. Try as hard as you can to not project your stress onto your kids. And it goes without saying to keep the news off as much as possible.

-Parents that are too controlling do not help with anxiety, it makes it worse.  Controlling your kids too much is a guarantee to cause anxiety in kids.  Try to foster as much independence in your kids as possible. Name 4-5 things you do for your kids, and try to knock off 1 or 2 things that they can do for themselves. If they take their plate to the sink, now have them wash the plate and put it in the dishwasher! 

 -Anxiety is contagious, learn ways to help control yours so it doesn't spill onto your kids.

6) Questions to ask yourself to help your kids as they transition to homeschool or Social Distance school:

-What supports does the child need?

-Social child vs. non-social?  If your child is super social, it's going to be hard for them to sit back and not be able to do all the normal things they are used to. What can you do to help them?

-Schools are full of routines and rituals such as Friday Night Football games, Homecoming, 1st Day of School Kindergarten Drop-Off, Talent Shows, Sports, etc.  We have to be creative and invent new ones, what will they look like? Time to get creative :)

-How can we promote socialization with kids? Extra Zoom meetings, socially distanced outdoor playdates? Riding bikes 6 feet away? Having Zoom games such as Monopoly or Clue? Having a SD picnic outdoors?

-How can preschoolers learn to interact socially? It's so hard for a 2 or 3 year-old to understand they can't hug their friends or run up and play with a child.  It's such a tough age for them going through this.  Maybe have a painting party outside, throwing down some blankets and let them paint and get dirty outside? Still hoping for cooler temperatures so we can do more of these things!

There are no easy answers to any of this as things seem to change on a daily basis!  But again, it's best to take it day by day, realize we are all in this together and we have to just take things day by day.  Don't stress over tomorrow.  I think we all have realized our kids are going to all be behind a little bit this year, but honestly I think it's a good thing we all needed to slow down as it was.  Our culture has been so fast moving the past 10 years, (forcing early reading in Kinder, elite sports in 1st grade, social media, etc) that a little break in the year has been a good thing for our family!