Reality Check: Back-to-School Edition

Kids and teens are returning to school this year as adults continue arguing about masks and vaccines. Some students are even entering new schools and classrooms after more than a year of learning from home. Setting realistic expectations as the school year kicks off can be a helpful way to support the mental wellness and growth of our students. 

  1. School has changed A LOT since March 2020. 

Given the COVID-19 safety protocols in place and changes in the use of technology, schooling has changed significantly since the start of this pandemic. There may be changes in bus routes and drop-off routines, which will affect young students struggling to separate from their parents. 

Assignments may be given online rather than in paper form, which affects how students and their parents will keep track of homework. Many students have moved on to middle and high school without really completing their elementary years, which means additional support in learning these basic school routines will go a long way in reducing stress and worry about what might happen as school begins again. 

  1. It will take time to make new friends and connect with old ones. 

Parents and educators have long lamented the difficulties that kids and teens have faced because of limited social interactions during the pandemic. As students return to school, it is important for them to know that talking to friends may feel more awkward and uncomfortable than they remember. Changes in the lunch and recess schedule may mean that there are still fewer opportunities for social connections while at school. Prepare students for these challenges by setting expectations, making space for socializing outside of school, and talking about how adults are managing increased social worries with their own friends and family. 

  1. Making the same grades might feel more difficult. 

After an entire academic year of reduced assignments, online or hybrid learning, and all schoolwork as homework, students may have forgotten how much effort it took to be a student all day long. Kids and teens may not remember what it’s like to attend school and still save some mental energy for homework and studying. Create a homework routine that includes time for a mental break, a snack, and a reward when the work has been completed. Parents and educators can also support students by helping keep track of assignments with a well-organized binder or school planner. 

  1. Remember that school isn’t everything. 

Even though kids and teens spend most of their waking hours at school, it is important to remember that they are more than just students. Be sure that kids and teens have time to spend with parents, siblings, extended family members, and friends (whether in-person or online). Encourage them to continue non-academic activities that they enjoy even when school and homework becomes overwhelming. This might include extracurricular clubs, sports, music lessons, or learning a new skill on YouTube. Parents and educators can model this balance by talking about and sharing their favorite activities too. 

Setting realistic expectations for students returning to school is one way that we can reduce the stress and anxiety of this difficult academic year. If you know a student who is having difficulty discussing these expectations or their feelings about them, please consult with a mental health provider such as a Licensed Psychologist. 

© 2021 Erika J. Vivyan, PhD. All rights reserved

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