BOISE, Idaho — Students are heading back to class soon, and while some may be learning in a physical classroom once again, others are learning remotely for at least the first few weeks. So how can parents get their children emotionally and socially ready for the new school year amid the uncertainty?
Executive Medical Director for Regence BlueShield of Idaho, Dr. Amy Khan, says no matter where your child is starting school, they may be feeling anxious or even a bit reluctant to start the new year. She suggests familiarity is key to overcoming some of those feelings.
"Drive by it whether the teaching is going to be online or a hybrid or in-person. Maybe you can get a virtual tour of the classroom or the school or if there are opportunities to come onto campus, have a chance to meet the teacher in-person, or to even do a quick Zoom call to not only meet the teacher but your classmates," explains Dr. Khan.
COVID-19 has forced school districts across the globe, the U.S., and here in Idaho to pivot to online learning. While adults are being impacted by the uncertainty during the pandemic, our children are feeling those effects as well. Dr. Khan says it's important to remember that kids are still developing, and it's critical to address their emotional and social needs.
"So from the start, really being open about communication, exploring their feelings, asking some open-ended questions about how things are going, and for our younger kiddos, maybe a few games or drawing is a really good way to help them start to get in touch with what's happening and listen for those certain cues or clues that they might be sharing," says Dr. Khan. "I think it's really important to keep that dialogue going--whether it's in the car on the way to school or dinnertime is a really great time to sit down and talk about how everybody's day went."
Extended time in the classroom and with classmates allows students to pick up social cues, but with remote learning becoming the norm since schools shut down in March, parents are now having to fill that gap.
"People aren't all getting together in-person anymore, but that doesn't mean we still can't get people together virtually to connect, maybe to check-in. There's often some games that can be played together. [It's] really important that we're encouraging our kids to maintain social connection, and not just with their peers, with other family members. Maybe it's siblings or grandparents or others in the community that they have a relationship with," explains Dr. Khan.
Dr. Khan also suggests taking simple steps, like making sure your kids get plenty of sleep on school nights and start their day with a nutritious breakfast. The structure of routine around school also helps so keep setting expectations through bedtimes, wake-up times, mealtimes, hand hygiene, homework, mask-wearing, and regular chores.
If you have questions about guiding your child's social and emotional needs, check with your family doctor or pediatrician. You can also talk to your child's teachers or school counselors.