With August upon us, we are greeted with a familiarity that we as adults know all too well, the stores full of Back to School Supplies and new school gadgets our child just cannot live without! and within the first week of school, they will have no doubt, lost, forgotten, or broken the much ‘needed’ supply.
I know this because I was that kid too! My love of new school supplies and office gadgets runs deep, when my own children go off to school I will likely have to send them to the store with their father who is far more sensible.
When we prepare the children in our life to go back to school, what do we do as the parent/caregiver to prepare them for this new school year? Does it end at the new backpack and lunchbox?
For me, it was exciting to get the new school supplies, but that was where my excitement ended and the anxiety began. My mother knew two things for certain when she was raising me, one – she raised me in a very routine and structured way and I became dependent on that routine. This now means if you don’t prepare me for a change in that routine, I will struggle. And two – I have an anxious streak. For my mother, school supplies were the least of her concerns. She had to start preparing me for my new routine in advance, that I would end up forgetting!
The summer months offer our kids the freedom of a later bedtime, a little less structure, and the best part of all, NO HOMEWORK! Much like our children in foster care, I knew what it meant to be in a new and unfamiliar environment, my father spent 22 years in the Air Force and I wasn’t always guaranteed to be in the same school, state, or even the same country, from one school year to the next.
As a new school year approaches, our children are not only facing the anxiety that comes with back to school, but they are also facing the added anxiety and uncertainty this year that COVID-19 has brought into our world. COVID-19 has become a new level of uncertainty. I won’t discuss it with them and even as a caseworker, I find it difficult to explain to my young clients what is going on in our world. With or without these unknowns, the reality is our kids are going back to school. Whether learning virtually or in the classroom, we have to assist them through the transition.
Here are some tips that may ease some anxieties your children may be facing.
Establishing a back to school routine:
• Implementing a routine for a good night’s sleep is key.
• Start with having a conversation with your child and let them help you decide what they need to do before bed.
• Getting your child involved in what their bedtime routine will look like will help them feel a part of the routine and be excited to actually start to “wind down” at night.
• Just like having a nighttime routine, a morning routine is just as needed!
• With virtual learning, parents going off to work, and childcare drop off, morning routines may look different this year.
If your child is returning to a traditional school setting, the routine may not change very much. They will just need reminders of what the routine is after an extended summer break.
There was a period in my youth where I was homeschooled for two years and my parents worked with me to establish a routine. What time I woke up for school while learning at home was different. If your children spend the part or all of the day at a daycare or with a babysitter. These changes will determine when schoolwork will be completed and with whom they will learn. All of these factors will assist you in guiding you into routines that will suit your family’s needs.
As a child and now an adult that suffers from anxiety, one of the greatest tools my parents gave me was knowing the power of my voice and my emotions, children often do not fully grasp the depths and meanings of their emotions and as the adult, it is our job to help foster and teach our children to understand and cope with their emotions, even the uncomfortable ones.
• Don’t be afraid to ask your child how they feel;
• Allow them to talk, explain, and help them identify the emotion;
• Affirm for your child that those feelings are okay to have and help them identify healthy coping skills to better manage those emotions!
One example would be when I was anxious in the morning, my mom would do something small that to this day still helps me cope. She gave me mints or minty gum. These small acts also gave me something else to focus on. I focused on chewing the gum or the mint getting smaller in my mouth. I didn’t concentrate on my fear. As fear subsided I became more comfortable with putting myself out there to make friends.
• Never doubt the benefits of having consistency! As much as kids love a day to go a little crazy, kids really want the routines, whatever plan you make, do your best to keep your child in the know. When changes and transitions happen, discussing them will help ease the anxiety that may begin to brew.
• Being active is also a great way to decrease anxiety with our kids! Whether it is a walk around the block or a homemade obstacle course, getting their bodies moving will help burn up that extra energy and keep their mind focused on healthy activities.
These are general ideas to help children cope with the anxiety of a new school year. The most important point to remember is communication!
It’s okay that as adults, we don’t always have the answers. It’s also okay to feel our emotions. Having that bond and trust to communicate openly as a family will help your children moving forward.
They say it takes a village and now more than ever, our villages are very important! Here at Hoyleton we have a diverse group of professionals who lend themselves to creating an environment of trust and growth, and we see ourselves as a part of your village, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Hoyleton Foster Care Case Manager