Back-to-school checklists are back, though they may look a bit different this year as children readjust to in-person instruction.
As students across central Pennsylvania reflect on their virtual/hybrid learning experiences, many will be entering school facilities for the first time in over a year.
This May, the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s (PSEA) President Rich Askey made a statement encouraging school districts to “prioritize in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year in accordance with the health and safety recommendations of state and national health experts.”
PSEA spokesperson David Broderick shared that “PSEA believes the vast majority of its members (teachers, educational support professionals, higher education staff, nurses, etc.) are either vaccinated or will be vaccinated before the start of this school year.”
As schools reopen their doors, how can parents and guardians best equip their children for what to expect and how to cope with the effects of learning losses?
“Understanding that while this year may be more of a ‘normal’ year, the effects of the last school year still have far-reaching impacts on all of us,” said John Dennis, chief clinical officer and co-owner of Parenting & Family Solutions, a central PA-based family counseling center. “It’s important to talk about the impact the pandemic had on our kids and understand there may be things that re-trigger emotions such as anxiety.”
Prepare yourself and your child for a successful transition by following these back-to-school tips from local behavioral health professionals.
After spending a majority of the past year at home, students may experience social anxiety coming out of isolation from their peers. Encourage your child to engage with friends at school and to get involved with extracurricular activities during and after school hours, say some experts in the field.
“It is important to talk about your child’s self-esteem, social anxiety and fears when returning to friends that they haven’t seen in a while,” said Tracie A. Maille, a licensed professional counselor. “If they know that they have a safe space to share and engage—that makes all of the difference.”
Local sports teams, clubs and church groups provide opportunities for children to socialize in a positive setting and help them develop a sense of purpose with goals and schedules outside of academic hours.
Check your local YMCA for school-aged child care programs before and after school including activities that engross children physically, mentally and spiritually. Visit www.ymcaharrisburg.org to find out what services are provided at your local branch.
As summer’s end grows near, families can start to share their excitement for the new school year by reestablishing a routine including appropriate sleeping schedules and evaluating learning styles. A few weeks before school starts, consider implementing screen time rules, homework zones, bedtimes and morning wake-up calls.
“Have a plan and communicate your expectations for your kids,” Dennis said. “Around the middle of August, begin slowly dialing back bedtimes by 10 to 15 minutes until you get to the desired sleeping habits. You essentially want them to have plenty of runway to adjust as opposed to just flipping the switch from summer routine to school routine.”
Write down the new schedule in a visible location for the whole family to see on a daily basis. Tasks, chores and grocery lists can also be shared in this same location to keep everyone on track as families’ lives start to pick up speed.
“Communication is key. Talk to your child about what changed about their academic career last year and what they can expect this year,” Maille said. “Just as the adult world was taken by storm with the pandemic, so was the educational life of your child (think socialization, communication and technology impacts).”
Staying connected—starting on their first day of school—is very important to a child’s mental health. Children do best when they feel loved by their caregivers and supported during challenging times.
“For children who struggle with anxiety, help them process their emotions by hearing them out, validating and supporting them without shutting it down, and not minimizing or problem-solving it for them,” Dennis said. “Where needed, communicate with school counselors and administration about any concerns or issues. Seek out professional help where needed with counseling, psychiatry or psychological evaluations.”
Resources for Success
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association lists school reopening plans for school districts across the state. Visit their website to learn about your district’s plan and other resources related to education and state legislation updates.
Worried that your child is falling behind? The Dauphin County Library System offers several reading programs for children from birth to age 12. Visit their website to learn more and enroll.
The American School Counselor Association offers crisis and trauma resources for parents and counselors navigating these emotions with their student. Visit their website at www.schoolcounselor.org to view their free resource library.
“Much like being catapulted into the world of COVID-19, we are now being catapulted into a post-pandemic world in which a new norm has to be established,” Maille said. “Parents need to remember that flexibility does not mean failure and to be kind to themselves as they navigate these new waters alongside their child.”
For more information on Parenting & Family Solutions, contact their counselors or view resources at www.parentfamilysolutions.com.
To contact Tracie A. Maille, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 484-509-1079.
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