Every family is quite familiar with back-to-school jitters after long vacations or when starting with a new grade. Similar is the case for the ones just starting with this daunting journey i.e., the kindergarten.
The anticipations, excitement, tantrums, and confusion are some traits that define the entire episodes of going back to school, for every age group. That is something that parents and children have been gearing up for ages and it has become an indispensable part of their routines. But, we all know the situation has taken a turn for the worse.
The jitters, the anxiety, and the uncertainties have amplified themselves owing to this prolonged era of the COVID pandemic. The major disruptions caused in our daily lives have been experienced very deeply by children as they were denied their zone of creativity, exploration, and camaraderie, their classrooms, and schools.
The transition from school to remote learning was an ordeal. Now, after almost 2 years, the tribulations have resurfaced with another transition, rejoining schools, surrounded by uncountable uncertainties.
With this article, we hope to bring certain clarity regarding the possible areas of concern, how to identify signs of distress in children and take proactive steps to make this transition less challenging for parents and children.
The cloud of apprehensions has shadowed every age group and they are all dealing with concerns either pertaining to the pandemic or the fact that it is going to take a lot of effort to normalize the school environment again, a comfort that used to come to them naturally.
It’s obvious that children will not only have to deal with the emotional expense of adjusting to the environment but at the same time, there will be an added burden of physical discomfort. Concerns regarding wearing the mask throughout the day, the constant sanitizing of hands, physical distance from friends, and even the slightest fear of consuming food in a public place can cause much dismay.
For many children, especially teenagers, maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships and navigating through their social life in a virtual world has been challenging to adjust to. With rejoining schools, the social dynamics will undergo an upheaval and could cause a degree of social anxiety. Integrating themselves into their friend circles, face-to-face interactions, and academic competitions could be an unsettling area for children.
For some, remote learning has been an uphill battle in trying to keep up with the pace of learning, adjusting to new materials and there has been a struggle to engage with friends and teachers and stay motivated. But on the other hand, some children have thrived in this period, making peace with the isolation, especially the shy ones. Such introverted kids had found their comfort zone in a laid-back environment and transitioning to an interactive environment can be a genuine concern.
We know this to be a natural reaction from beginners when they join kindergarten. But the setup since the last one and a half years has made children accustomed to closer proximity with their parents and caregivers and they have found assurance in this proximity during uncertain times. The children from a younger age group may experience bouts of separation anxiety.
Online learning has to a greater extent restrained the intensity of bullying and shaming. The virtual world for younger students has provided them with a shield as the usage is monitored by parents or caregivers. With schools resuming, such instances of bullying and shaming can spike up, making the transition even more difficult.
Also read: How to Prep your Child for 1st day of school
It is important to understand that many things which contributed to children’s budding identities have been stripped from them. The natural flow of mechanisms in their bodies has been disrupted and this is bound to spark certain reactions on the surface level. This period is extremely crucial to identify the signs of distress for children to prepare for an intervention.
This could be evident in children of preschool age who show clear signs of acquiring developmental milestones. In a distressing environment, psychosocial trauma caused by sudden changes in their routines can reflect in missing out on milestones. For ex- difficulty in potty training, handling fine motor skills like tying shoelaces, expressive speech delays, etc.
Preschool children can also exhibit signs of increased attachment with a caregiver and can experience separation anxiety showing strong behavioral and emotional reactions. This could also lead to stranger anxiety while trying to reintegrate themselves into a school environment.
This is an obvious one but for children who have never exhibited such behavior of physical discomforts and are doing so now, it could be a sign of heightened distress.
With teenagers this entire transition can cause issues that could surface up as frequent and persistent patterns of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance, or vindictiveness towards an authority figure or with peers.
Exhibiting shyness, behavioral inhibitions, peer neglect, isolation, irritability and weepiness, recluse mannerisms, irritability, moodiness, etc. could be a sign of withdrawal and a reaction to experiencing a stressful transition.
Parents can always turn the situation around by providing a healthy space for the child to express themselves. All the channels open up when parents approach such situations empathetically, forming a conducive environment to communicate any concerns or distress.
This is the key to successfully employing all the helpful interventions. First and foremost, there is a need to identify signs which could be bringing about a detrimental change in their behavior. The reactions to the social, physical, and emotional strain can manifest in different ways for different individuals. Any deviations from the natural pre-disposition can be an indication of distress.
It is natural for parents to get anxious in such situations and they would want to jump into the situation and get problem-solving. This could backfire if you haven’t understood the root cause. You might be doing more harm to your child than good. Keep yourself grounded, create a space for children wherein they can express themselves and you can listen. Acknowledge their feelings even if you don’t agree with them. Allow them to understand that it is okay to have such reactions.
Talking to them in a way that is sensitive to their needs and validating their feelings will enable children to express their concerns. Children need to know that returning to school is a big thing and it is natural to feel that way. Parents don’t necessarily have to intrude or impose themselves but simply convey that they are available whenever the children want to talk.
It is a well-known fact that sleep is extremely essential for our mental health and well-being. During times of stress, our sleep routine is the first thing that gets affected, and going back to school will bring about a significant change in a child’s sleep schedule. Our energy depletes trying to cope up with physical and psychological strains. Rejuvenating through sleep becomes imperative and parents need to ensure that a proper sleep schedule is being maintained.
Coming back home after experiencing confusing interactions in the classroom, your children do not need to be overburdened to go the extra mile. A morale booster could be allowing them to relax, setting their own pace to adjust. Don’t push them for extracurricular activities. Try to plan out certain rewarding activities like a trip to a toy store or a drive around the town. Something or anything for them to look forward to. This setup can especially be helpful for easing out separation anxiety.
Parents are the biggest role models for kids. In situations when they observe their caregivers express themselves anxiously, it can have a detrimental effect on them. In this transition, it is normal for parents to feel the heat but they can practice self-regulation by being mindful of their own emotions and by practicing self-care as much as possible to be present for their kids. Invite your children to take part in certain family coping activities.
The key to helping out children through any stressful situation is to simply be there for them. Just knowing that there is someone who can understand them is enough for children to pull through. But at the same time, it is essential that parents be kind to themselves through this entire process. It is a huge shift in dynamics for you and your children and since you are the core of the support system, it could be more stressful at times but never hesitate to take time out for yourselves.