No matter if your family is sending your little ones off to school for the first time or if you are dealing with changes in how schools are functioning, as is the case with the COVID-19 pandemic, setting up a regular routine and some structure will support your children’s adjust to the new academic year.
Families are in a stressful situation with lots of changes happening – parents working from home, job loss, furloughs, online learning, learning bubbles, and rotating school schedules just to name a few. Nobody was prepared for these changes and some are downright difficult. It can be hard to know what to do and where to start. Luckily, there is quality research available that can help families cope a little better.
Remember that everyone is trying their best to adapt to the changes that are happening. Take a little time each week to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. Keep the things that helped and try to find a new solution for the things that weren’t so great. Be sure to ask your children’s opinions. Often times they are creative and flexible, which is a real help when we are going through times of transition.
Bringing back family meals is a wonderful way to put structure in the day. Having everyone sit down together and eat is beneficial in many ways. First, our children tend to eat more nutritiously during shared family meals. Second, mealtime is a wonderful space to talk and relax after a busy day. And, finally, shared family meals offer a safe place to check-in with everyone and see how they are coping. Together, these benefits can improve mental health and well-being for both parents and children.
Even though everyone is tied to their computers, tablets, and various other screens, being sure to include some physical activity into each day is important for both mind and body health. You don’t need to carve out an hour for exercise to gain benefits. Having everyone take a 10-minute dance break (take turns picking the tunes) or a quick game of tag can get increase our energy levels, break up long computer sessions, and make us more alert in addition to the physical health benefits that movement brings.
While it can be tempting to be more flexible, it is better to establish rules and expectations with a routine for each day. Keep bedtimes the same, whether learning takes place in school or at home. To help our children and teens get good sleep, be sure to cut off screen use at least a half hour before bed.
Keep communication lines open with children. Taking time to talk with our children and teens is important to monitor them for signs of distress that may need additional mental health support. If you find that your child is having problems, contact your health care provider for advice.
It’s important that we are on the lookout for any signs that our children are struggling academically or with learning difficulties. Don’t hesitate to have a conversation with your child’s teacher so they can understand how your child is handling everything emotionally and academically. If problems arise with school adjustment, having this connection with the teacher will help facilitate finding appropriate solutions. Encourage children to take responsibility for their learning. Becoming an independent learner takes a lot of practice to develop good habits.
Children who are learning virtually need a quiet place for schoolwork and the appropriate learning materials readily available, such as the WIFI password, account logins, paper, pencil and a way to backup their electronic materials in case something happens to their device. Nothing is worse than losing a large project or term paper because of a computer malfunction. Setting up automatic backups will prevent lots of tears.
If attending school physically, children need multiple face masks that are labeled with their name so children do not confuse them with someone else’s. Children should have enough masks to change them every 4 hours, or sooner if wet or dirty. It’s a good idea to practice how to put on and take off the masks without touching the portion that covers the nose and mouth. Focus on using the elastics that go behind the ears or head to avoid contaminating the mask. Also, remind children to wash their hands before and after putting on their mask.
Of course, if your child is showing signs of sickness or symptoms of COVID-19, keep them home from school. Call your health care provider to discuss the child’s symptoms and create a treatment plan to help them recover and protect others from getting sick. Our children are watching everything that we do and say. Our example is what is going to help them manage these difficult times and still be able to thrive. Being empathetic to their frustration, and our own, is healthy and understandable during these uncertain times. By having a plan of action in your family that is being continuously adapted based on the realities of the situation and reactive to what is working and not working will be instrumental in finding the right balance.
About the instructor
Dr. Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.