There are some places that as a parent you might have tried to avoid at all costs throughout the pandemic. For example, you probably weren’t taking your kids to visit any dangerous trampoline parks or to the nearest indoor kids’ pizza-and-play restaurant.
At the same time, no matter how many precautions you might have tried to take to protect your kids and your entire family, now it’s nearing the time when most children throughout the country return to school.
Your child’s entire district might have been virtual last year or maybe had a hybrid schedule. You might have also been able to opt into virtual learning, depending on where you live.
With the widespread availability of several vaccines in the U.S., even though they’re not available to kids under the age of 12, it means you might have limited virtual learning opportunities, and it could be time to return to in-person school.
The potential return to school for many kids around the nation is, unfortunately, coinciding with a rise in the delta variant of COVID-19 so that can complicate things. Your kids might be feeling some anxiety about going back to school for many reasons too, especially if they were home last year.
With all these factors in mind, the following are some things to remember as you help your kids get ready for an unusual back-to-school experience.
Should Parents Be Afraid of the Delta Variant?
The CDC has known about the delta variant since around December of 2020, and it was initially detected in the U.S. in March of this year. Only recently did the CDC say the delta variant is concerning.
This comes as people were just starting to feel like they could go back to some sense of normality.
The delta variant, at least based on what we know right now, is more contagious and infectious than other variants of the virus. It’s easier to transmit, is essentially what that means.
What we don’t know is how much that’s going to reflect in actual symptoms in children, who have largely been spared from more severe pandemic effects.
We know that children’s cases are increasing, but symptoms have been mostly mild and might include coughing, runny nose, headache, and fatigue.
There has also been a rise in other viruses in children, probably due to less social contact for the past year-and-half that’s now going up again. These include respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.
To protect your children during the school year, most pediatricians say you should take the steps you were taking before, such as masking and frequent handwashing.
If your children are too young for a vaccine, doctors say that making sure everyone around you who’s eligible to get them does.
Doctors also tend to say that if you’re facing a dilemma about whether or not to send your kids back to school, it’s almost always the best place for your child to be.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC are recommending some social distancing in schools and mask-wearing.
What if your child’s school doesn’t require masks?
Some states aren’t going to require masks in schools as well as individual districts. Even if it’s not required, that doesn’t mean that your child can’t wear a mask, so keep that in mind.
There are a plethora of mental health issues plaguing kids right now. Children may be feeling a combination of excited to return to school but also nervous. Around 90% of households in the U.S. with children did some form of remote learning last school year, and now kids have to re-learn what it means to return to school.
Children who were set to begin kindergarten may now be going into first grade without an understanding of classroom behavioral and social norms, for example.
Seventh-graders when the pandemic started and now going into high school without that year of in-person in school in between.
There’s also a sense of trauma because of how families have been affected in different ways, whether that’s the loss of loved ones, financial challenges, or other struggles that the pandemic has brought about.
As a parent, be aware of what services might be available to your child if they’re struggling so you can actively seek those out. Be involved in the school year, which will help you identify possible red flags before they grow into more significant problems.
Recognizing If Your Child is Struggling
It can be challenging to know if a child is struggling mentally because they tend to show it differently than adolescents and adults.
You may have to observe to see subtle signs that something is amiss.
Signs to watch for as your child prepares to return to school include:
- Severe or out-of-control behavior
- Physical symptoms like stomach aches
- Not eating
- Intense worries
- Mood swings
- Problems concentrating
Creating a New Routine
As you’re preparing for a potentially unusual school year, developing a routine is going to be one of the best ways to help your child. They may be used to fairly unstructured days, but now, you want to structure days once again.
Start doing it at least a few weeks in advance of their return to school. Begin waking them up around the time they’ll need to wake up for school, having breakfast, and also putting them to bed earlier.
Prepare your child for school by talking to them about what to expect and help them manage their expectations. Encourage them to share how they feel with you, but don’t lead them toward certain responses.
For example, rather than asking your child if they’re nervous to go back to school, ask them if they’re excited or just how they feel in general and whether they have any questions.
Finally, as hard as it may be, try to show your own confidence and excitement about your child returning to school, even if you’re feeling some apprehension.