With many children set to return to school after more than a year away from physical school buildings, here are some tips to keep them (and their parents) healthy – mentally and physically.

Child Health | one month ago

Back to School Tips for Parents and Kids as They Transition from Remote Learning

With many children set to return to school after more than a year away from physical school buildings, here are some tips to keep them (and their parents) healthy – mentally and physically.

The term “back to school” has a whole new meaning this year. Many students haven’t been in their physical school building since the spring of 2020. When the upcoming academic year begins, many school-aged children and their parents will have questions on what to expect.

Transitioning to in-person learning – in the midst of an ongoing pandemic – might be easier for some students than others. The same might be true for their parents/guardians, but the adults can set a good example for the youth.

“I recommend that parents and children start the school year with a positive outlook,” says Kathy Davis, MD, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s South Lake Pediatrics. “Last year was difficult for everyone, and this year will likely have challenges as well, as we are starting to see an increase in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant.

“A child’s outlook is often influenced by their parents, so avoid negativity and try to remain optimistic! I encourage parents to try to be patient as children go back to school.” 

Parents who are struggling mentally and emotionally about sending their children back to school can also take steps themselves to feel more comfortable. Talking to other parents can help as a reminder that everyone is in this together, and it’s normal if you feel a little anxious.

“There are things a parent can do to help themself and their children feel more prepared,” says Crystal Bullard, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Atrium Health Behavioral Health Services. “For starters, parents can contact school officials to get more information about the safety measures schools have put in place to make the schools safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Avoid the Silent Treatment

Dr. Bullard says people often avoid talking about things that make them anxious. But talking about returning to school can help ease students’ nerves. “Talk to them about all the things they like about school,” she says. “Remind them of good memories from prior years. This will help them focus their attention on the positive aspects of school.”

As an unfortunate reality of the pandemic, many school friends lost contact during remote learning. Parents can reintroduce socialization by planning play dates for younger children to reconnect with classmates. Older teens can be encouraged to talk with their friends or hang out before the school year starts. Finally, while running errands with your child, drive by their school to familiarize them with where they’ll be going once the school year begins.

“Look for a good time to bring up going back to school such as during a car ride, while taking a walk, or during dinner,” Dr. Bullard says. “Have multiple conversations with your children in preparation for their first day back. Ask them what they are excited about and what they may be nervous about. Explain to them it’s normal to have some fears or worries about returning to school.

“Remind them of things they can do to be safe such as washing their hands and staying home from school if they are sick. Also, keep in mind, the first few days may be difficult but most likely your child will adjust to being back in school.”

Stick to a Routine

Students developed a comfort zone while learning at home, and they need to rediscover their comfort zone in learning at school. One of the best first steps is ensuring that they eat nutritious meals and stay active once the school year begins.

“Organization is key,” says Dr. Davis. “Plan ahead, meal prep, and set time aside in your schedule for exercise. Set a good example and spend quality time with your children by exercising with them. Get your children involved in planning meals: Ask what fruits and vegetables they would like for the week and come up with healthy lunch/snack ideas together. Invest in a good water bottle that they will enjoy drinking from!”

This is also a good time for reminders about hygienic routines like washing hands, wearing masks, and keeping hands away from faces. Parents and students should be aware of school protocols to limit the spread of germs. That will help lower the risk of common illnesses as well as COVID-19. To be on the safe side, children should remain home if they have fever or if they’re sick.

In addition to these safety practices, one of the best ways to protect children from COVID-19 as they head back to school this year is with vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccine is available and safe for everyone ages 12 and older. Speak with your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about the vaccine and to determine if it is right for them. Visit our resource hub online to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines and schedule an appointment.

Stay Alert and Take Note

As the year gets underway, it’s important for parents to stay involved and monitor their child’s education.

“Talk to them about their school day, help with homework if needed, and stay in contact with their teachers to ensure success,” Dr. Davis says. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for extra help or tutoring if needed.”

Make sure your child gets a good night’s rest and is prepared for school the next day. Also, keep an eye on how your child is adjusting to being back. Dr. Bullard encourages parents to seek professional help for their children if they’re worrying excessively, especially if it impairs normal daily functioning.

“Signs and symptoms may include irritability when discussing or preparing for school, asking repeated questions, and needing lots of reassurance,” she says. “Anxiety can cause sleep disturbance, appetite changes, and other bodily complaints such as stomach pain, nausea, or headaches.”

Finally, it’s important to remember that the situation is fluid and school policies may change as the year goes on. This is uncharted territory for everyone, including school leaders.

“I encourage parents to try to be patient and flexible,” Dr. Davis says.

Tips to Get Help

If you have questions or concerns as your child prepares to head back to school this year, contact your pediatrician. Need a pediatrician? Visit online to find one near you and explore services and care options available at Levine Children’s.

For 24/7 mental health crisis assistance, call Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Help Line at 704-444-2400.