4 minutes reading time
‘Back to Normal’ School Stress
By Cathy Cardew, Preventionist
We are now almost two years into this pandemic. We are in this odd limbo of still living a pandemic lifestyle mixed with returning to a "back to normal" routine. One thing that has gone back to pre-pandemic times is full days of school for our children. With so much time spent being virtual and/or hybrid, going back to school in person for six hours every day has proven to be a challenge for our youth. I see this in my own elementary school children as well as the ones I teach. The transition back is proving to be anything but easy. If you are seeing the same struggle, either as a parent or teacher yourself, here are some helpful tips to aid in easing this journey back into regular life.
- In a continued world of uncertainty, make the things that you can schedule a steady guide for children. At home, having a daily, predictable routine with regular times for healthy meals, homework, and bedtimes goes a long way. At school, having a daily structure to help children learn what to expect from their school day sets the foundation of the day for them (and for you).
- This September brought the first opportunity in a very long time for children to return to full days back in the classroom. After the first day of school, my 6-year-old cried to me, saying "Mom, you mean we have to do this every single day?!" She was overwhelmed and exhausted, which was to be expected. With this in mind, plan ahead for extra mask breaks, "wiggle breaks," and different strategies to help keep students' attention for the prolonged school day they are not used to.
- For school administrators, make sure to provide staff development and support for teachers if there are more children than usual who are having difficulty with the transition back to full in-person days. Anticipate those obstacles and assume more may be coming down the pike.
- Teachers, set aside time either for individual check-ins or group classroom discussions (this will depend on age) regarding students' worries about coming back to school for full days while still dealing with the pandemic. Many times, feeling that extra support from their teacher or hearing that another friend in class has the same stressors as they do really helps a child feel less isolated and more comforted regarding their concerns. Giving them that safe space to open up about their fears makes a huge difference.
- Flexibility is key. I remember hearing these words over and over again in the height of the pandemic, and it still rings true today. Transitions (especially ones as big as this one) are never smooth, so be ready for those bumps in the road and roll with the punches. This is the time when thinking outside the box is most important, because the world we are living in now is a far cry from any box we are used to thinking inside of.
Ultimately, the main takeaway as we enter this new phase of "returning back to normal" in our schools is having realistic expectations. We have been in this pandemic for so long now that things are not going to just snap back overnight. It is going to be a long, gradual process spanning many years. The best thing you and your students can do is to know that getting into a new and stable flow will take a while. Knowing this and giving yourself and your children that leeway will help take the pressure off as you continue to deal with these unprecedented times.