Back to School in 2021: A Parents Survival Guide

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Written by Moe Gelbart, PhD – Director, Behavioral Health

The start of each new school year is usually filled with excitement, nervousness, and many unknowns for children and parents. After a full year of virtual learning, social distancing and being off campus, this year’s return to school is more intimidating than ever. Add to that the uncertainty of COVID-19, the spread of the Delta variant and the conflict over vaccines and masks, makes this back to school not ordinary in September. Here are some suggestions to help you and your child get through these unusual and difficult times.

To be patient. Just because the students are back in class; not everything is back to normal. In reality, not all children are happy to be back, and even those who are impatiently awaiting them may feel anxious at the same time. Help your child to come to terms with his conflicting feelings, the understanding of his feelings will often change from day to day. Help them adopt a “one day at a time” attitude and be more flexible than they may have been in the past. Make sure that your own expectations aren’t too high, and that things may not be the same as they were for a while. We all want to go back to where we are now, but it will happen on its own schedule, and we have to be sure that we don’t rush things artificially.

Focus more on the effort and less on the results. Help your child not to judge their successes by results alone, and teach them to focus on the process. Remember the saying that the journey is what matters, not the destination. When your child is focused on the process, they will feel more in control, more empowered, and ultimately more self-confident and confident.

Keep things in perspective. Most experts are certain that this school year will not be totally smooth and understanding this is essential. Help your child to avoid catastrophizing and imagine future disasters. Teach them to live in the world of “what is” rather than “what if”. When they are overly anxious about test results, friends, sports teams, etc., let them know that the situation is fluid, that it will change and that it will soon be different. Even if they may think that “this is the worst thing that has ever happened” or “it will never get better”, help them recognize that their situation will improve.

Monitor social media. New research confirms what we already know: There are dangers to adolescent mental health on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media. Children spend too much time on these platforms, compare themselves to unrealistic messages and come away feeling less than, inadequate, unattractive and ultimately depressed – and sometimes even suicidal. For many, their time is consumed online or on their cell phones. While it may not be easy, as parents we need to communicate with them, help them establish healthy boundaries and boundaries around screen time, and put in place stronger safeguards where it seems. that there is a problem. A recent
the Wall Street newspaper The article suggests parents discuss the tactics social media companies use to make teens addicted and help them think more critically about how they’re being handled. Parents should also monitor and verify daily what is going on in their teenager’s online world. The younger the child, the easier it is to control the situation. It is recommended that children not have their own cellular device until they are 12 or 13 years old.

Model healthy behaviors. Your children will pay more attention to what you do than what you say. Let him see you recognize your own feelings and overcome emotional difficulties. This will help them accept themselves and open up to you about any issues they may be having. Demonstrate a healthy lifestyle by example, that is, eating healthy, exercising regularly, adopting good sleep habits and good sleep hygiene. Avoid the use of alcohol or substances as an escape or coping mechanism.

Incorporate mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skill that allows us to be fully present, aware of our surroundings, and not to be overly responsive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us. This technique can be easily practiced and helps regulate emotions and stress. The two key components of mindfulness are awareness and acceptance. The benefits are significant and include reduction in stress, anxiety, pain, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Mindfulness also improves attention, decreases the risk of substance abuse, and helps regulate emotions. One of the advantages of our current technology is that mindfulness can be easily practiced using one of the many applications available, such as
Calm or Hreading space. Eight to 10 minutes a day will have a significant positive impact on your children.

Develop rituals. Structure is an important element in dealing with today’s uncertainties. Spending time together as a family with regular, planned events provides a kind of anchor of stability for children during times of turmoil. Eating meals as a family at least three to four times a week will also provide significant benefits. As stated in the
Harvard EdCast, family dinners are “associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, smoking, early teenage pregnancy, as well as higher rates of resilience. and self-esteem ”. It is helpful that these times together are free of cell phones. Other activities include watching a certain TV show each week, visiting grandparents on a certain day, or reading by the time.

Avoid asking too many questions. A common refrain I hear from parents is when they regularly ask their children “How are you?” Or “how’s school?” the general answer is “good”. Perhaps a better way to communicate with your child, rather than asking questions, is to communicate your own feelings – that is, to express why you are asking the question. Instead of “how’s school going? You could say, “I see you coming home and looking sad, and I’m concerned about what’s going on at school.” Many times this leads to a much more meaningful conversation.

It will be a difficult school year. In the first few weeks, we saw outbreaks of COVID-19 in every school district in the community, resulting in quarantine and a return to distance learning for some. The future is unknown, but as parents we can be better prepared. As I often say, “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. “


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