Ep. 13 – How to Help Your Child go Back to School

If your children have been in quarantine due to COVID-19, going back to school could be hard for them. Fears of infection, re-acclimating to a new routine, saying goodbye to being at home. All of these could present problems for your children. In this episode, you'll learn who to help your children with this transition.e

You'll Learn

  • how to help your child with Corona-Anxiety
  • how to help your child acclimate to a new routine
  • the importance of validation

Click here to listen!

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Imagine that you've been cooped up inside a little cell. And you weren't able to go outside for, I don't know, a couple of weeks, two months, something like that. You couldn't meet anyone and you didn't have much to do. And then all of a sudden, a door opens and you are shoved back into your old life. How are you going to cope with that? Is it going to be easy? Are there any adjustments that you have to do? In a sense, this is what's going to happen to our children when they have to go back to school after being quarantined or locked down or whatever it's called in your country. So in this episode, I'm going to talk with you about how you can help your children cope with the transition better. So let's cue the intro and do this.

Hi, friends and welcome to another episode of The Apparently Parent Podcast. I am really, really happy that you decided to join me for this one because I truly believe this is a crucial topic right now. So if you listen to this episode sometime in the future, after all the dust has settled in, you might feel that this is less relevant for your life. And if so Isn't that great? But wait, don't leave just yet because the principles I'm going to talk about are relevant in any case. And if you are just like me living through this pandemic right now, stick around.

So let me just start by telling you how things are looking from my end. In my country schools were shut down on March 13th So this is around 50 days ago at the time of this recording. And during these days, we were all homebound. In the beginning, we took the children for walks outside, just in a neighborhood or in a small patch of nature next to our place. And luckily for us, both me and my wife, we both worked from home. So we could be together all the time. But, you know, after some time, we all just settled in and mostly stayed inside, and maybe went a little bit outside on the balcony or just for little walks outside. And I have a boy in the first grade and a girl in kindergarten. So in the beginning, he had some virtual learning activities, which used to take about an hour each day. That's it, and the girl didn't have anything structured. So we settled into this routine of getting up in the morning, relaxing, studying a bit, then we went to the balcony and mostly spent the time as best as we could. While you know, I and my wife try to work every now and then.

But now, the government is talking about sending children back to school in a gradual way. I'm recording this on a Friday, and the talks are that on Sunday schools are gonna reopen for first, second and third graders. And we know that some cities, mine included, are not going to open schools because they say they're not ready. It's a whole bunch of mess.

And we have no idea what really is going to happen. And how is it going to work anyway, they're talking about splitting the classes to little groups, maybe sending some kids on odd days and the rest on even days, having children sit apart from each other, you know, six feet apart, etc. I really don't know what's going to happen and naturally, this is a vague situation, which brings a lot of worries.

Now, think about that situation where you live in and if your children are about to go back to some kind of school routine, what will it look like? Are you worried? Do you know what to expect? My focus today is not only about your own worries or thoughts, I want you to use that so you can connect to the worries and thoughts that your children have or may have. Imagine what it would be like for them. So for some kids, it's going to be a piece of cake. You know, some kids can't wait to go back to the old routines. But for others, things may look a little bit different. So today we're going to explore the ways you can help your child navigate these waters in an optimal way.

So let's break down different obstacles that may present themselves either for you or your children. And the first one is anxiety. The world has become a little bit more dangerous than it was a couple of weeks ago and that's true for everyone. In the effort of coping with the epidemic, we all were forced to retreat into our houses to learn how to wash our hands like never before, and we started wearing face masks or gloves when going outside. And we are all doing our best to avoid an invisible force of nature, a little virus that wreaks havoc in society.

And so it goes almost without saying that it's totally natural to suffer from fears and anxious thoughts about all of this right now. Think about your child. Your child is being cooped up at home for several weeks in order to prevent himself or herself from being infected and or infecting others. Now you tell them that they have to go back to school. They have to go back to seeing all their friends and teachers and everything, but they're not allowed to touch each other or do the usual things they used to do in recess, etc.

So why wouldn't they be scared? And actually being afraid is not that bad. It's an adaptive emotion. If we weren't afraid of this virus, we wouldn't have taken all those measures that helped lower the infection rates, for example, or we wouldn't buckle up, you know, in cars, etc.

However, it's when the fears are becoming so widespread and can grow into more than what they are that we suffer from anxiety. So one thing that your kids may present our fears and anxieties around being infected or infecting others. And let's call that Corona anxiety. And maybe you suffer from this anxiety yourself? I can totally tell you that I am afraid about this stuff. I haven't seen my psychotherapy clients in more than a month or I think maybe even six weeks. And I've been working with them online via zoom sessions, but I'm going to go back and see them face to face. And I can't wait to do that already. But there's also this place of fear.

How hard would it be like to go back to seeing people after not seeing anyone except family for so long? This is how life is now. And if we succumb to these anxieties, we wouldn't be able to do much, right?

So let's talk about how we can work with anxiety and how can we try to conquer anxiety. So first and foremost, let's talk about knowledge and proportion. We know how to handle infection of Corona viruses in a pretty good way. We know that most people who will be infected have a mild infection and have a mild sickness, even even less than mild. Alright, so we know the risk factor although it's really infectious but the risk is kind of low for most of us. If you have any risk factors because of age or other illnesses or anything like that, it's kind of a different story. So you need to take care of yourself.

But for the most part, we can use our knowledge, we can use our intellect to tell the fear to move a little bit to the back. "It's nice of you to protect me" . And it's something that we can tell our brains really easily, I sometimes teach my clients to have this kind of a dialogue with their anxiety. You can imagine the anxiety as a little monster who's telling you things and it has a really benevolent goal to protect you. But you can tell it exactly that you know, you're thinking a little bit too far. And this is the kind of dialogue that you can teach your children or you can do with your child as well.

So if your child is telling you that he doesn't want to go to school because he's afraid he's gonna get infected, you can tell them that, yeah, it's something that he can and should be scared about. But there's something that can be done about it. The risk is kind of low. We wouldn't reopen schools if it were a higher risk and you can do things to avoid being infected or infecting others.

Other than having the knowledge and putting things into proportions, you can have a plan, a game plan, if you will. And the plan is really what can you do about it? What can you do to reduce infections? So you can teach your children and work with them and practice with them washing hands and, you know, talk about not sharing their food with their friends.

And yeah, if you can't play sports together because you don't want to be in close contact with your friends, what can you do instead, etc.

And the other thing that you can do in order to conquer anxiety is to teach your children to relax. Because sometimes anxieties are not only in our thoughts, they are also in our body, the emotion of anxiety brings muscle tension, shortness of breath, etc. And some relaxation methods are really useful to lower the volume of these emotions, belly breathing, and muscle tension relaxations are really crucial and helpful tools that you can teach your children and help them help themselves if during the school day, suddenly, I don't know someone sneezes, even at the other end of the hallway, and they're feeling anxious all of a sudden. So there's something they can do with their body to relax the body and then relax their mind.

So I'm not going to go into exactly teaching you how to use belly breathing or muscle relaxation techniques, you can look it up, and I'll put some resources in the show notes of this episode. And you'll find all the details there about these kinds of relaxation techniques.

So even if you don't suffer from anxiety or your children don't really suffer from these anxieties, going back from one routine to another is never easy. And it's true even for us adults. Think about the last time that you went on a vacation of more than say, I don't know, three days. It may feel like something from a previous life, I know. But try to remember that. Can you remember the first couple of days since coming back home? You know, when everything still feels kind of weird? Yeah, because it takes time to acclimate to a new routine, even if it's a familiar routine, even if it's a routine that you love and cherish.

So think about your children. It's hard for them as well to move from one routine to another. And the thing is that now we're going to go into something which is a whole lot different than what we know and cherish. We don't know, we don't really know how the new routine, how the quote unquote, new normal will work.

Okay. Again, an example from where I live. My boy is supposed to go back to school for less hours a day, in small groups. We are not sure about who's going to teach him. And he's supposed to sit at his own table six feet apart from other children. And what's gonna happen in recess? I don't know. And he's six, six and a half years old. Okay, so this is really, really strange and we don't know what's gonna happen. So this is moving into a new routine that is really, really vague. Okay, how can we handle this vagueness ? We can hug it, we can accept it, we can accept the fact that we are none the wiser about what's going to happen, and we talk about it. Okay, this is not something to put under the carpet. The vagueness can endanger anxiety. And that's fine, because our brains crave concrete knowledge. And there's nothing we can do about it. So we have to accept the vagueness we have to accept the unknown and to work with it. We can hide from it for our entire lives. We have done so for the last couple of weeks, but time will come that we have to face it.

So what can you do? You can actually tell as much as you can, and as much as you know, to your child. What you know, let them know. And also talk about what they are feeling about it, ask them, okay? And give them the opportunity to express whatever they feel about it, be open and listen to their thoughts and feelings about what could happen.

And you know, there are many questions such as, could I play tag with my friends in recess? Or what if I really, really want to hug my friends after not seeing them for so many weeks? These are questions that are likely to arise, okay? Or maybe why do we have to go back to school, we can study with these virtual learning techniques, etc. So, just be open to these questions. Give them the opportunity and the permission to ask every question even if they sound silly to you or you don't have the answer. Just be open about it. And be open about the fact that you don't have all the answers. You're not supposed to have all the answers. The government's supposed to have more answers than you about how things are supposed to run and they don't have all the answers right? So be kind with yourself about that and don't be afraid to admit it.

And also you can stick to the known parts of the routine you know, the technical stuff. Go over the school back together. Oh, by the way, I really hope that you removed all the food that was left there. You know, when schools were shut down, after all these weeks, you don't want any surprises. See that everything is in its correct place. And it really may sound technical, and maybe even silly, but it's really important because it's been a long time since they were at school. And kids don't usually hold these informations in their head for a long time like we do. And truth be told, we don't as well sometimes. So it's an important practice to go through these things in advance, don't wait until the first day of going back to school to suddenly find out that, you know, they lost and they know they really have to bring something or something like that and do it in advance.

Now this next point is really, really important. If your schedules have been altered significantly during these homebound weeks, you have to start shifting them back to school hours. So if they are used to going to bed later than usual, and they wake up later than usual, okay, you have to start shifting them back to their old schedule, do it gradually, but do it. It's really, really important. It means going back to bed earlier or waking up earlier. The body needs the time to re-acclimate to the new chronology. Don't expect your children to snap into that new chronology, you have to give them that time. Imagine yourself in a jet lag, okay? It takes time, you know, toput things back in order. Okay? And this is also true for other changes such as screen time, okay, so if your children have been going for many, many hours a day, and with their iPads or computer or phones or whatever, and if they have done that, that's fine might have been as well, but start to catch their eye and this screen time, okay to let them readjust to you know, have having less of that. The same is true for meal hours. So I have some friends who told me that it's like an open kitchen all the time, they're going there and eating and eating and eating. So try to again, put some schedule back into your lives. Okay.

And there's one more thing that is really gonna change. Just listen for a second. And did you notice how quiet those last couple of weeks were? When I asked my followers on social media what would they miss most about this period of time, many of them said they are going to miss the quiet. You know, there are less cars driving, you don't have to commute, you know, and even if things were hectic and noisy in your house, it's not the same as going outside on regular days. When we did walk outside, it was really, really quiet. It's nice. Now, think about your child who was used to spending time at home with the family. And you know, even if you have many children, okay. It really can compare to the noise generated by dozens of kids running around in a closed space such as School. Now, if your child is sensitive, you know, talk with him about the differentiation between the noise at home and the noise at school and they know it already. It's not familiar to them, but just, you know, prepare them that it's gonna come, okay? Talk about it, put it in the open and, you know, being prepared to be able to anticipate that can really help them you know, lessen the shock when when they go back to school and you know, see all those people and all the all these noise etc.

Now, here's an awesome trick that will help you and your child prepare for those first days of school. And it's actually a great trick for everyday and not only for children, and you can really use it for whatever you want, but it's really useful for these times. And it's based on the fact that our brains are smart. And magnificent as they are, they're kind of stupid. And I mean that in the sense that sometimes they don't know the difference between imagination and reality. So this is why things that are only in your mind can make you so afraid. But we can use these to our benefit. So, just imagine that first day with your child, play an imagination game with your children, and, and ask them to imagine that first day of going back to school, and ask them to be as detailed and as specific as possible. And if it's hard for them to put in all the details, do it for them, help them too, to imagine things okay, be as visual as you can and imagine the sounds etc.

And imagine yourself getting up and eating breakfast and getting dressed and looking at their watch and, you know, noticing when it's time to go and walking the usual way you walk to school or drive to school or whatever. And you know, going up the stairs and imagine yourself or ask them to imagine themselves seeing their friends after not seeing them for how for I don't know how long and ask them as you as you see your friend in your mind's eye, you see your best friend that you may have only seen for mentally over zoom or maybe a million meetings, you see them walking towards you, what are you feeling?

Imagine your feelings, imagine what your body wants to do. But you know, you're supposed to keep distance and maybe you can give him a high five or hug her or whatever, okay? And what will you do, what can you do, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So, repeat that in your imagination, it can really, really make them feel more prepared to that day, okay? When, you know, practicing, we used to say, practice makes perfect. So, it's kind of a mental practice that you go about in your brain and again, Your brain will know that their brain will no it's, it's only in their imagination.

It's not like they, they feel it's the real real thing, but it does work. It does give them a sense of control and a sense of familiarity with that situation, okay? There are less surprises when, you know, zero hour when the thing really happens when they go back to school, when they see their friends, when they have to wake up early, etc.

Now, another thing that you can really do and I believe that you have to do in order to help your children cope better with this going back to school thing is validation. And, you know, if you've listened to this podcast before, you know, I'm going to talk about validation, right? You should always, always, always, I can't stress it enough, but I will, always validate your child's feelings, even if you don't identify with them. Okay, keep an open mind and positive one. And yeah, you should try and help them focus on the positive sides of going back to school like seeing their friends, for example, body fat expressed some negative aspects, fear of infection, not wanting to go back to a boring place of study, whatever they feel, validate that, which means acknowledge the feeling.

Let them know that you feel them, that you understand that feeling that it's okay for them to feel that and to express that you don't have to agree with their motion, but let them know that it's fine to have that. And again, sometimes it sounds obvious that you should do that. And if it's obvious to you, I'm really really happy. But for many of us, it's not obvious. A lot of parents think that when their child expresses some kind of negative emotion, they should try to avoid that they should teach them to always be positive and happy. And I totally, totally disagree with that. Because if we don't give this game this space to feel those negative emotions, they will only learn how to hide those emotions away because these emotions will come for the rest of their lives, because that's part of life. So we have to teach them that these emotions are welcome. And we can feel them and be with them. And this is how these emotions also dissipate and go away.

Okay, and one last thing. In the end. Remember, children are really, really adaptive, like really, really, really adaptive, for better and for worse. So as long as you're mindful to them, as long as you keep an open mind in an open conversation, as long as you position yourself as the secure attachment figure The bigger and wiser, that can be trustworthy, as long as you let them know and feel that you're there for them, they're going to be fine. And you're going to be fine. So good luck with that. And, you know, if you have any questions, or if you have any tips or suggestions that I didn't talk about, let me know.

About The Apparently Parent Podcast

On this show, I share with you my perspectives and experience of parenting and psychology.

Enhance your understanding of the relationship with your child and yourself by learning about attachment, mindful and playful parenting mindset and techniques.

Listen to me sharing my knowledge and experience both as a parent and a therapist, as well as interviews with parenting experts from around the world. 

Eran Katz - Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor

Your Host

Eran Katz

First, I’m a father of two kiddos. But I’m also a Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor specializing in Attachment Theory and Experiential, Emotional Focused Psychotherapy. I believe that parenting is one of the most important things we ever do in our lives. This is why I love talking about it and helping parenting just like you and I find their best-parenting-selves.

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