This is a confusing time for parents and for students of all ages and grades! In this newsletter, I hope to help you understand the complexities of what kids and adults are negotiating emotionally, to help you better cope with your own and your child’s emotional experience.
Kids are VERY stressed and anxious about going back to school, but not all for the same reasons.
- Some kids and teens don’t want to go back to in-person school because they find socializing difficult and it has been easier to be home. They have preferred (if not enjoyed) being home, because it is less complicated. At home they don’t have to worry about being bullied, left out, or negotiate ways to fit in with peers, or even their own social group.
- Some want very much to go back to in-person school because they want to be social, and have missed it greatly. However, they are still worried that it will be very different, not normal and hard to connect with their friends due to distancing and masks. They haven’t seen their friends for a long time, or in big groups, and are unsure if it will work well. They are getting their hopes up for it all to be fixed — but understand that this may not be the case at all. Even some very social kids feel ‘rusty’ and not fully socially confident.
- ALL kids are anxious because they don’t know how long ‘in person’ (even if it is hybrid/limited) school will last. Every kid with whom I speak feels convinced that school will be back fully online within a few weeks. This is not necessarily what they want, or what will actually happen. But, they don’t want to get their hopes up for it to continue. It is, therefore, difficult to feel excited about going back because they are so unsure that it will continue.
- Some are ambivalent about going back to in-person school because they find school difficult, stressful or overly time consuming. This is true for those who are good students as well as those who struggle academically. Online school, while boring and with its own challenges was, for some kids much easier. Their grades were greatly improved from ‘normal’ and their academic lives were easier — fewer tests, less homework. I have spoken to many kids who look forward to going back to school for social reasons, but are dreading the resumed academic pressure.
- Some kids are very conflicted about going back to school because they won’t have their normal extracurricular activities: sports, theater, clubs and more. For many kids, this is where they get the most satisfaction and even though they will have some semblance of a school day, they are deeply worried about not having what is most important to them.
- Some districts/private schools/families have chosen to continue with online school. The students about to embark on this experience are worried it will be boring, hard to stay engaged and socially isolating. Older students are worried that their high school experience and college potential will be negatively impacted by more online school. Since no-one actually knows what the impact will be, it is not easy to reassure them, and they are old enough to realize this.
Most kids are experiencing a little of all of these feelings which will make going to make going back to school emotionally complex, requiring patience and understanding from adults. For those kids that will be home for some or all the time, structure and accountability on virtual days, is as important as for the days a student goes into the school building.
It is also in your child’s best interest to keep complaints and criticisms away from kids. It is unlikely that any school/district will administer this school year with no bumps or problems However, hearing these will make it much harder for your child to get the most out of school, to engage with teachers and to enjoy school. Hearing negative conversation about school will force a child to take sides (school or parent) and this conflict will be stressful.
Adults are also struggling with the transition of back to school — for several reasons.
- Everyone is worried about how the school year will progress — it is incredibly difficult to plan life not knowing if the school schedule will change in a few weeks, and how kids and schools will manage an online or hybrid model.
- It is hard to manage our own extensive stressors and also those of kids as they return to school with so many unknown and new factors to be considered academically and socially. This is true for both working and stay-at-home parents.
- It still feels that there is no clear end in sight so it seems impossible to know how to plan family life over the course of this school year.
- Parents are worried all the time about how kids will manage with reduced socializing, a different type of learning and few, if any extracurriculars. Worrying like this about your kids — all the time, can impact sleep, and increase stress, anxiety and depression, even if you’re not ‘normally’ someone who struggles with emotional health.
- Many people tell me that they feel their relationships and friendships feel stressed and they feel lonely. This is understandable, but difficult.
These are not normal times, so be patient with yourself too! Take care of yourself, so you have the emotional energy to care for you child as we move into this new school year.