If you’ve made the decision to send your child back to school (or maybe the decision was made for you), you likely assumed you would feel some sense of normalcy after the fact. After many months of NTI it seemed that sending children back to school might be the first step to feeling more like a parent and less like a teacher, and most importantly, no longer having to hear your child complain about how much they hate NTI, and how they’re not even learning anything. It should be the first step in feeling “normal” again, right? But what if it’s not?
If you and/or your child are still struggling after returning to school, it’s okay. Your child may continue to complain about school, and you may continue to struggle with helping them keep up with everything that comes along with it. This does not make you a failure as a parent, it does not mean that your child will never succeed, and it does not mean that things will never feel normal again. Listed below are some strategies to help both you and your child if their transition back to school has become difficult.
- Set the tone – Be honest about your thoughts and feelings regarding your child being back in school, but remain positive. Plan weekly family discussions to talk about workload, safety, teacher/peer interactions, etc. Write down any questions your child has that you don’t have answers to, and let them know you’re happy to help find an answer.
- Validate their feelings – Use your child’s worries and complaints as a way of connecting with them, instead of telling them why they should not feel a certain way. If your teenager is coming home complaining about their workload, let them know you understand. “ I know it seems like a lot more work than NTI, I’m so proud of you for sticking with it this year.” Younger children may have a hard time with separation due to spending an increased amount of time together over the past year. Remind your child that you know it’s hard and you miss them too, and you’re so proud that they made it through the entire school day.
- Routine Routine Routine- Maybe I should say it a few more times? Routines are extremely important, especially when returning to school. While as a parent you don’t have control over what happens during your child’s school day, you can offer predictability in all other parts of their day. Go over what the day/week will look like for you child. “This week I’ll be dropping you off, and you’ll be riding the bus home. We’ll leave for school at 7:45, and you will get home around 3:30. We’ll have snack, homework time, and then free time. You have soccer this Thursday at 6pm. Do you have any questions about what this week will look like?” Things will come up unexpectedly (#parentlife) but stay as consistent as possible when you can.
- Emphasize safety- If your child is concerned with their own safety while at school, remind them that everyone is doing the best that they can to keep things clean and healthy. Ask your child’s teacher to go over how the classrooms are cleaned at the end of the day. Discuss proper hand washing procedures and keeping masks in the correct position at all times. You may be able to have more of an open conversation with older children. Let them know that while we can never be 100% sure that we won’t get sick, school is important and sometimes small risks have to be taken.
- Focus on mental health over academics- If you’re noticing that your child is doing the best they can, that’s good enough. If your child is in a good place mentally, that’s better than any grade that can show up on a report card. This school year has been rough for everyone. You may notice your child coming home with C’s when they’re typically an A-B student. While as a parent it can feel like you’re “allowing” less than ideal grades, your child needs your support and empathy more than ever right now. Let them know that you have full confidence that if they continue to try their best, those A and B’s will start to show up again.
- Check in often- Aside from family meetings, plan to check in with your child every few days and keep it very informal. A simple, “Everything going okay for you?” is all you need. You can even bring up something you’ve experienced as a segue. “I had a really stressful meeting at work today, I definitely need to relax a little bit tonight. How are you feeling?”
You’ve likely experienced some stress in your job over the past year, possibly going back and forth between home and the office, turning the spare bedroom, dining room, (in my case my child’s playroom) into a home office, being forced to become a Zoom expert, etc. Your child is likely experiencing that same type of stress, and may not have the proper tools to manage it. Show support and empathy not only to your child, but also to yourself. Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup.