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Back to School

How to make the transition for children easier.

A report by Plymouth's Mental Wellness Resource Team

It still makes us a little nervous about getting back into something after a break. Are you a little uneasy about going back to school and seeing all your friends in person again? Heading back to school can be challenging, especially during a pandemic. But there are things parents and families can do to make the transition for children easier.  

Talk about their worries

Have a family meeting where you talk to your children about their worries, fears, and excitement.    What are they looking forward to most?  What are they worried about? Give your children a safe space to synthesize their thoughts, hone awareness of their own feelings, and share what’s on their minds, so they aren’t holding it all in.  You may discover that the fears you think they have are only your own, and your child is purely excited, looking forward to seeing people again in person and learning in that environment.  Whatever it is, this will be a big transition, and it deserves a dedicated space to talk about it.  Keep the line of communication open between you and your children and between the school and other parents.  Once school begins, talk with your child about how school is going and about interactions with classmates and teachers.

Anticipate some anxiety and nerves

Being around people again may come with anxiety or nerves for children who have been worried about getting sick.  If you’re able to anticipate these nerves, you can develop some ways to cope with them when they arise.  Practicing reframing negative thoughts as more positive ones can be helpful to do in advance. For example, if your child says they are worried that they will get sick, practice more positive self-talk that counters the worry. Say things like, “I know I’m worried I will get sick, but I also know I’ll be wearing a mask and keeping distance from others, so I am doing what I need to do to keep myself healthy.”  You can also practice deep breathing techniques with your child.  Those breaths send signals to your brain that are calming and lower stress.

Proactively check-in about mental health

The pandemic was a collective societal trauma, and we don’t yet know the impact that it’s going to have long-term.  Professionals have reported that rates of anxiety and depression have been soaring in kids and teens as their usual structure, guidance, coping mechanisms, and, for many, even basic needs like food security have been ripped out from under them.  Parents should proactively watch for behavior changes in their children. Watch for things such as excessive crying or irritation, excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, difficulty concentrating, or lack of enjoyment of normal activities, which may be signs of your child struggling with stress and anxiety. Talk to a healthcare provider if your child’s symptoms are severe or persistent.  When in doubt, ask your pediatrician.

Be consistent

Children need stability during times of change.  Make sure your child has a daily, predictable routine, with regular times for healthy meals, physical exercise, naps, and night sleep at home.  Having a rested body and knowing what to expect at home helps children cope.

Be present

Try your best to be present, predictable, and consistent.  You might be the only part of their lives- and minds- that feels that way right now.  So be there for them and follow their lead as much as you can. Above all, remember to put on your own oxygen mask first.  Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.  Be a role model for your child by practicing self-care:

  • Stay calm and reassuring

  • Take breaks

  • Get plenty of sleep

  • Exercise

  • Eat well

  • Stay socially connected 

It’s easy to feel isolated and alone.  But the truth is, all parents are finding preparing for back-to-school highly stressful this year.  You are not alone in your feelings, and you are not expected to manage these challenges without support.  If you need it, please reach out to the Plymouth Mental Health Resource Team.


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