TeenLife

    What Parents Can Do to Ease the Post-Pandemic Return to School

    Posted November 10, 2021, 12:40 pm by Rachel Sokol

    What Parents Can Do to Ease the Post-Pandemic Return to School

    For many parents, helping their emotionally-fragile teens re-adjust to in-person academics during a pandemic was crucial. The transition back to in-person school after a year of learning at home wasn’t smooth sailing for many American teens. Many missed their friends and had trouble concentrating on academics at home.

    School Safety at the Forefront

    New York City freshman Thomas lost his grandmother to COVID-19. “We’re all still mourning her death.”

    “I was nervous on the first day back to school because I was gone for a long time—I did miss my friends, some went back in-person earlier,” says Thomas. “My grandma wasn’t here to put me on the bus, like she always did before, so that was really sad.”

    “Once mom and dad told me I was going back to the school building in September I was happy,” says Thomas. “They got me new school supplies, a book bag, new uniform, new sneakers…so I was ready to go back.”

    Mom Noelle admits, “I think we had more anxiety about his return. We wanted to make sure the school had safety protocols in place to keep the kids safe.”

    She adds: “We prepared Thomas with hand sanitizer, masks, and told him how to interact safely with other kids and teachers.”

    Starting Over — In a Mask

    Matt is a Boston-area high school senior who “thought going back in-person after a year home would be hard because I had to wear a mask, get up early again to catch the bus, and return to in-person test-testing--but I adjusted pretty well.”

    Matt did have an academic concern.

    “The teachers seemed to favor the in-person kids. Now that I’m back in school, the teachers can spend more time with me.”

     He’s grateful for his parent’s help in his transition back to in-person high school.

    “My dad makes sure I get up earlier and eat before school--I have ADHD so I sometimes don’t remember to do these things. When I was remote it didn’t matter as much, but now time management skills are really important.”

    Adds mom, Jill: “Matt had some anxiety about masking all day and the tough classes he’d be taking.  I just listened to him and encouraged him. We have a very open line of communication and he’s comfortable talking to me. We discussed how his day went and any problems he may have had.”

    Help Teens with Routines

    Kristen Arquette, a Kirkland, WA-based Marriage & Family therapist who works with many teens, advises parents to take note of their teen’s changes to daily routines and habits that developed during the pandemic.

    “Re-evaluate whether the current routines are a good fit for in-person school.”

    “Many teens got into the habit of staying up later to message friends as a way to have social time during the pandemic, but staying up late may make mornings before school more hectic and stressful.”

    As a result, being tired leads to feeling more irritable, which can result in social problems for teens, “and makes it harder to focus, concentrate, and remember new information, all of which are essential for learning and keeping school stress manageable.”

    Ditching the Screen Time

    Sarah, mom to New York 10th grader Nat confesses that, “I just continuously spoke to Nat to have her mentally prepare for the daily return to school the same way I would prepare her for any new experience. I don’t really have very high anxiety, so that’s been very helpful!”

    Nat feels overwhelmed at times being back in-person.

     “School feels really crowded because it was hybrid model last year with kids in part-time. I don’t do well with change, so it took time to get used to the hybrid model but then halfway through the year I started to like it a little bit more because I could sleep in a bit longer.”

    Adds Nat: “But I’m a visual-spatial learner and it’s harder for me to learn on a computer screen; for me, it’s easier to learn in-school, in-person.”

    What Parents can Do

    If your child is struggling to adjust to in-person high school due to anxiety, you may decide homeschooling is the best option. Consider academic programs such as Pearson’s Connections Academy and K12.com; but note that homeschooling requirements vary by state. According to Dr. Zenia Ruby, The Lang School, New York, NY, if you’re unsure where to begin with homeschooling, reach out to educators, mental health professionals and others in the community who have homeschooled their teen. “A common barrier parents report when it comes to successful homeschooling is feeling unsure of what to do and lack of familiarity with evidence-based practices.” When finding a homeschool curriculum that works for your child, consider their specific learning needs, which is an important step. 

    If your child does want to continue in-person and push through their anxiety, consider counseling.

    Counseling Considerations

    “A school providing a supportive plan and flexibility as students seek mental health treatment for anxiety can be pivotal,” says Ruby.

    “The goal is to decrease anxious thoughts and feelings, increase anxiety tolerance, and develop coping strategies.”

     School psychologists, adds Ruby, are trained to identify conditions that get in the way of student learning, including anxiety. They help students develop coping skills and parents identify outside supports. “School psychologists also create a bridge between home and school that's critical for supporting students who struggle to return to brick-and-mortar learning.”

    Parents play a huge role in the treatment of anxiety symptoms, explains Ruby, so reaching out to a mental health provider at your child's school “is a critical first step.”

    And remember, says Ruby: “Students all over the county are trying to readjust. They developed new habits to cope with remote learning, and change is not comfortable or easy. The good news is that the more you do something uncomfortable, the easier it tends to become.”

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    Rachel Sokol

    A NY-based writer, Rachel Sokol has contributed to TODAY Parents, SHAPE, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Univision, FamilyEducation, Mom.com, and more. She has a degree in magazine journalism from Emerson College, was a higher education writer in Manhattan for 8 years, and has two children.

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