Preparing your kids to go back to school after such a long-time? Specialists give us their advice.
August 20, 2020 | In just a few days, children will head back to school, but in quite a peculiar context. Some, notably students in the greater Montreal area, have not set foot in their classrooms in five months. How do we prepare them for this return in the classroom? Three specialists offered us their advice.
According to Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier, clinical psychologist and associate professor at UQAM, the most important thing to bear in mind is that everyone, parents and children alike, need to adapt to this new reality. And since there is still an important number of unknowns concerning this pandemic, she believes that the solution for parents is to try and make going back to school as predictable as possible by talking about what we already know.
Talk About the Guidelines
Thanks to the Back to School Plan announced last week, parents have a much better idea of what will happen at school, says Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier. For example, they can talk to their children about how they will move about in the school, who will wear masks and when so that they have a better idea of what going back to school will be like.”
The psychologist also recommends explaining the guidelines in place so that they are meaningful to their child. “When you explain masks, social distancing and hand washing are all tricks to prevent the virus to propagate to lots of people, you’ve just made your child more aware of their responsibilities, she says. They now know that they play a role in society and instead of reacting to those guidelines, they will respect them more.” It’s even good for their self-esteem, she adds.
Solène Bourque, psycho-educator, has observed that, for the most part, children have already adopted and integrated the sanitary guidelines, which will make going back to school that much easier. As for those who might not yet be used to wearing a mask, she suggests that parents shop for them with their child, get them used to wearing one and wear one themselves.
Getting Back Into a Routine
Getting back into a school routine after the summer break is always a challenge for parents. It’s even more the case this year for those parents whose children have not gone to school for a long time. It’s therefore crucial to use the coming days to get back to a slightly more structured schedule.
“You can start by waking your kids and putting them to bed at times that are more in line with their school schedule, says Cadleen Désir, educational psychologist. It’s also a good idea to bring meals back to a more regular schedule.” She also advises parents who are working from home to have a routine, too, and to get ready for work in the morning, which sets a good example.
“You can display a family calendar for everyone to see, it’s a good way to prepare your child, she explains. You can circle their first day back in school. They’ll be able to count the days and visualize how much time is left, and that will help them prepare themselves.”
Beside going back to a routine, Solène Bourque also suggests to foster their child’s autonomy. “Let the little ones get dressed on their own, ask them to help setting the table and get them used to ask for things in an appropriate manner when something is wrong, she suggests. These are things that will help them adapt to the school environment where they are expected manage on their own and follow directions.”
Motivating Your Child
After spending months at home, some children might have lost interest in going to school. It is quite possible that your child would prefer to stay home, especially if you work from home. Motivating them starts with acknowledging their feelings, says Solène Bourque. “You can tell them that you understand he loved spending so much time with us over the last few months,” says the psycho-educator.
She also suggest offering them to maintain certain habits that they liked such as going to the park or playing a board game. “Try to do those activities with them once or twice a week,” she adds. “Strive to maintain those positive experiences even though school has started again, it will bolster their motivation.”
Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier says it also helps to remind your child that they like school. “You can open the door by saying: ‘I imagine you are excited to see that friend again’ or ‘remember your PhysEd teacher and all those games that you loved?’ It’s not guaranteed your child will suddenly say they are looking forward to going to school, but reminding them of a few things that they liked about it might motivate them.”
Similarly, getting them involved in the choice of their school supplies and asking them to write their name on their school books are more positive and motivating actions for certain children.
Reassuring Your Child
Cadleen Désir recommends asking your child a few questions to find out what makes them nervous. “You should never downplay their concerns, she says. It is important to let them know you understand them and that you are there for them.”
Parents should not say there is no danger to children who are afraid to catch the disease, but they can say that it’s become clear now that children rarely catch it and that they are not very sick even if they do.
They might also feel reassured if you point out how so many people in our society are working really hard to contain the virus. “That way, your child will understand that adults are acting to fight the disease, says Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier It’s the perfect time to remind them that the best tools we have for this are washing our hands, social distancing and wearing a mask.”
According to Solène Bourque parents can also stress the fact that their child cannot stay home all the time. “You can for example explain to them that isolation can lead to other problems, she says. Explain to them that stay home all the time will make them sad, because we all need to see other people. If we are alone for too long, our heart is not happy.”
Trust Your School
Self-isolation definitely had an impact on our children’s scholastic progress. Some accumulated a certain deficit, especially students who had special learning needs. Cadleen Désir thinks parents can take a big breath thanks to the measures implemented in Québec. “I’m glad to see it is one of our Government’s priorities, says the educational psychologist. We don’t know how those resources will be used in every school, but one thing is certain: there will be measures and tools to help students.”
One thing parents must do right from the start is working as a team with their child’s teacher. They should not hesitate to share their concerns or talk about things that are quite right. Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier is also relived to see that catch-up measures have been considered. “If a child did not learn much during self-isolation, it’s not a big deal. They’re not alone. They’ll have time to catch up. Teachers are aware of this and they’ll adapt.”
Since it is likely the situation will evolve, specialists advise parents to keep a certain degree of flexibility. The routine at home and the planned modus operandi at school might need to change. We must be ready to adjust.
As a matter of fact, parents should follow the lead of their children. “Children are not as resistant to change as adults are, says Solène Bourque. They are quick to adapt. Before the age of 8 or 10, they’re also less able to anticipate things and project themselves in time, which is totally to their advantage. And that’s because the best way to go about things right now, is one step at a time.”
Read also: How are parents and children coping with going back to school?
Julie Leduc — Naître et grandir
Photos : GettyImages/shapecharge, monkeybusinessimages et Ana Belen Garcia Sanchez