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3 Ways to Cope with Back to School in 2020

Amber Brandt  |  September 15, 2020
It’s completely normal for students, teachers, and parents to experience “new school year jitters,” but 2020 has provided greater challenges and uncertainty than ever before. You may find yourself wondering how to properly support your child or overwhelmed with the decisions and load you’ve been asked to manage. We understand.

At National Heritage Academies, we want to help you feel as confident and empowered as possible, whether your children are learning in-school full time, part time in school and part time at home, or entirely online. We’re here to help your family successfully navigate the school year despite these unexpected circumstances and find creative ways to cope in this new learning landscape.

Here are three ways you can help set your family up to thrive:
  1. Establish rhythms.
When we sense a lack of control, it chips away at our confidence and can leave us feeling vulnerable. The same is true for children. But if a parent communicates even a simple outline of the day’s events, children will feel safe and supported. You don’t have to provide details, just start by sharing what the blocks of time will be.

For instance it may include virtual learning, lunch, physical activity, and rest. In that case, you’d say something like, “Okay, after breakfast you both have video calls with your class this morning. Then we’ll spend some time reading before lunch. We’ll eat in the backyard, take a quick bike ride, and then finish up with more schoolwork this afternoon. How about we order pizza for dinner?”

If your child is attending in-person classes, you may address some of the topics of masking or social distancing head on. “I bet it sure feels strange wearing masks throughout the day doesn’t it? Are there some ways we can make it feel more normal?” And then talk through the blocks of time like breakfast, drop off, classes, lunch, etc. and emphasize how those blocks of time are still consistent.

Fred Rogers once said, “When children know ahead of time what’s going to happen – and not happen – they can prepare themselves for what’s coming. They think about it and get used to their feelings about it.” Even if the only consistent part of your day is discussing the day’s blocks over breakfast, that’s enough routine to keep everyone feeling connected and informed. The more you can work into a routine, the better your days will flow.
  1. Talk about your feelings.
It can be hard to easily name or admit when we feel scared. Children may not even realize they’re actually feeling anxious, because it’s coming out as frustration or sadness. You can help your child process what they’re feeling in their body or through their reactions. “When we had trouble logging on to your call this morning, I noticed you covered your eyes and started to get emotional. What were you feeling right then?” or “How does it make you feel when your teacher takes your temperature or asks you if you washed your hands?” Don’t be afraid to share your own feelings in an age appropriate way, too.

If your child is learning virtually and you feel overwhelmed, it’s completely fine to say, “When I found out we were going to be learning at home this year, I felt worried about how I would be able to get my own work done, or if I would know how to help you study. But the cool part is that we’re all learning together, and it won’t be long before we find the sweet spot. This year certainly is different and challenging for all of us, but we will figure it out together. I already feel much better this week than I did last week. What about you?”

Or for in-person learning, “I’m glad you get to see your classmates and teachers in-person, but sometimes it makes me feel a little sad that so many things feel different for you this year. I’m really proud of the way you’re taking this all in stride.”
  1. Focus on the good.
No matter how challenging life may seem, we can always find something to be grateful for. Take some time during dinner or bedtime to share about the things that are going right. “This school year has definitely felt different so far, but what has pleasantly surprised you?” “I love that we get to have lunch together every day. I’m really going to miss these special backyard picnics when it gets too cold out.” “Doesn’t it feel good to still get to go outside for recess?”

Even though this school year is not what we expected, we have a great opportunity to model the behavior we want our children to learn. If we are willing to listen to and validate their concerns, and open up about what makes us feel hopeful, they’ll witness how to practice resilience even in the face of difficult challenges. Please remember to practice self-care and ask for help when you need it.