Helping Parents deal with children’s transition to in-person school

Kids at school

This fall may bring an unusual transition for families: the return to in-person school after a year in the virtual classroom. This will come as a welcome relief to many parents worried about their children’s education and development, but it is important for parents to remember that transitions are difficult. Parents should adopt a curious and open-minded approach with their children; they should not assume they know what their children are thinking or feeling about their return to school. Some children — especially ones struggling with learning problems or difficulty with peers will have grown very comfortable being home with parents or siblings. 

Pre-teen and teens may have changed substantially in the year and might feel uncertain about returning to prior teams or groups of friends. Some children may feel concerned about leaving a pet at home alone. Likewise, some children may be going to a new school and might be anxious about facing such a big transition without the usual planning and support. Parents can show up when and where their children are most likely to talk: bath time or bedtime for young children, or in the car together with their adolescents. 

school kids wearing masks

They can ask: “Have you been thinking about to going back to school? Have your friends been chatting about it?” 

If children can begin to anticipate both the good and the difficult, they will be better equipped to face and manage the challenges. Children in elementary school handle new situations well but they are prone to anxiety about new expectations. Often all they need is to see parents being calm in the face of uncertainty, bearing the strong feelings that may come. Adolescents may be grieving the things they have missed. Parents can offer compassion and validation and help them to anticipate their own strategies to face those challenges. 

Children with learning disabilities or mental illnesses are vulnerable to falling behind. Parents should reassure their children that they will work with the school to make sure that they can succeed in the classroom as they did at home. Parents should help their children identify and describe their worries. By the end of summer, parents can start moving bedtime and wakeup time earlier gradually. Children that are planning to return to a sport may benefit by gradually increasing their exercise or starting to train. Avoid falling back into overscheduling themselves. Schools may determine some of their routines, but they should also prioritize their family connections and well-being. 

Adjusting to change takes time, but it is also a chance for parents to observe that change is an inevitable part of life. Teachers like pediatricians are dedicated to doing what is best for children, let’s make our children come back to school full of good energy, willing, and eager to learn again.