Everyone’s starting to gear up for back to school (yay!!) and while most kids are likely ecstatic to head back to in-person learning, there may be some uncertainty around heading back for others, too. This has certainly been on our minds as parents, so we decided to ask a few experts for some pro tips to help our kids with this big transition and make it the best year yet. Read on for some powerful advice from our expert interviews with Reshma Lancaster and Amelia Doty-Jones.
First up: Reshma Lancaster
Reshma is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified EcoTherapist. She works with children, teens, couples, and adults who are struggling with emotional and/or behavioral issues. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Masters in Psychology & received her Bachelors in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz. Her groundbreaking work in Eco Therapy helps open the door for individuals to further develop or newly explore the beautiful natural world as a companion for profound healing.
We were lucky enough to have a full Q&A session with Reshma on a range of topics. She works with kiddos quite a bit and to be honest, we were blown away by her responses. We kicked things off with the question that’s probably on a lot of parent’s minds this year: What can we expect as we send our kids back to full-time school this fall?
"There are a whole range of things to expect as a parent sending your kids back to school this year," offered Reshma. "It can be witnessing your child feel extreme excitement and jubilation to complete dread. Many kids have vocalized their disdain for online classes or being stuck at home so returning to school is bound to bring a refreshing change for them (especially if your children enjoyed going to school prior to the pandemic). For others though there may have been a safety and familiarity formed by staying home and doing school online or being homeschooled by their parents so the idea of leaving that can be anxiety provoking. Of course there will be children who have a sense of mixed emotions; both excitement to see friends but also fear/worry of how it will feel transitioning back. There may also be unexpected emotions you feel as a parent and that can certainly impact the entire experience."
Reshma had some powerful insights for parents too. We asked her for the top three things we can do as parents to help our kids be ready for back to school this year? Her Top tips are below!
Check in with yourself. First and foremost, check in with yourself to know how you are feeling about your child going back to school. A lot of times parent’s own emotions (especially fear and anxiety) can ripple straight through to their child without knowing it. If you are feeling any sort of ambivalence or worry then productively work through these anxieties by itemizing them to understand how big of an issue they pose. Often times our worries are future-based so it will be helpful to write each worry down to know if you are inaccurately fortune-telling the future or if the worry is credible. Then you can move into problem-solving by discussing your concerns with a source who can help you get answers or create a game plan (such a teacher, your child's school counselor, a trusted friend, doctor, etc). This can help prevent your own anxieties from inadvertently becoming your child’s anxieties.
Check in with your child! Create time to discuss the new schedule and how they are feeling about going back to school. Engaging children in discussion is best done through activity and play. Depending on the age of your child you can alter the approach in which these conversations are had to match their developmental level. Most children (and adults) thrive off of movement and physical activity. You can take your child on a walk or a hike outside while having conversations and exploring difficult emotions. Nature is an excellent source of rejuvenation and continuously creates space for kids to open their minds and hearts. You can also model healthy expression of emotions by sharing your own feelings and how you are working through it. You may even establish a special outdoor check-in place, a special spot you go with your child to explore their inner world. Children love story and metaphor so you can also turn to nature in countless ways to help connect your child to sources of strength and resiliency. (i.e. We can stand tall and grounded like this tree. Or we can soar into this change with our arms wide open like the bird above us).
Start the day right. Along with the basic tenets of having a healthy routine in place, it would be extremely helpful to make sure your child is getting consistent physical activity, especially in the morning before school. Establish a morning physical routine even if it is only 10- 15 minutes long. This can be as simple as a morning walk together, yoga stretches, relay races, or playing a quick game of catch outside. You may even incorporate mindfulness into your walks and ask your child to pay attention to one sense each morning (i.e. “During our walk today you can share 3 things you *smell*, 3 things you *hear*, or 3 things you *see* that are beautiful to you). Physical exercise can positively effect nearly every aspect of your child’s life including better sleep, increased cognitive abilities, improved self-esteem, and better ability regulating emotions. If physical exercise isn’t possible it would still be great to have a consistent activity in the AM before school to help your child (and you) feel grounded and calm. The opposite of this would be waking up late, racing to get ready, and rushing out of the door.
We also asked Reshma if there were things we should keep an eye out for as parents during the first few weeks back at school. She not only suggested things to look out for but offered great advice for how to help address any concerns.
“On one hand it is important to remember that your child is going through a big transition going back to school and that is going to elicit a whole range of emotions,” said Reshma. “It is normal to see fluctuation In their mood or energy levels during the first few weeks. If you continue to see ongoing shifts in their general mood, energy, sleep, diet, interests or engagement with the family then it would be wise to check-in with them about this. Share what you are noticing and ask if there is anything in particular that they are struggling with. It is important to acknowledge what they are going through and create space to validate their experience as it can take time to feel back in the rhythm of going to school (especially after a quarantine). But it is also important to identify any deeper concerns or issues they may be dealing with. You can remind them they are not in it alone and they have a support system. Sometimes it's helpful to even have your child name people in their world they know they can turn to for help or even write down/draw people they love and place it in a visible spot in their room. You can even normalize the struggle as many people of all ages are dealing with anxiety returning to a post-covid world.”
Next up: Amelia Doty-Jones
Amelia earned her bachelor's degree from Seattle University and her master's degree in social work from Tulane University. She currently works with children providing short-term mental health treatment, utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing to promote overall wellness.
When we connected with Amelia one of the first things she mentioned was to remember kids are resilient. This really resonated with us. If there’s one thing the past year has taught us it’s this. Our kids have adapted to so many things during the pandemic - from wearing masks, to skipping out on so many activities, and missing friends. There’s been so much change happening all around them, and they deserve some serious credit for their courage and flexibility.
Once school starts, you may need to have follow up conversations with your kiddos to address any issues that pop up. Amelia stressed the importance of acknowledging their concerns and validating their feelings. It’s ok to have big feelings, and they’re totally normal. Come up with plans to deal with potential uncertainties and challenges. She suggests practicing re-framing worrying thoughts: “I’m going to get sick.” 🡪 “I’m doing everything I can to keep myself healthy.”
And finally, and this is so important for parents and kids, Amelia suggests modeling self-care by taking care of yourself and practicing self-care with your children especially once school starts. This is a time of transition for everyone so, don’t forget to take care of your own health and well-being. Model positive sleep habits, healthy eating, mindfulness, and of course have fun together!
Hopefully these tips help make the transition back to school a breeze for you and your kiddos. There’s so much to look forward to as the kids all head back for in-person learning this fall. So, here’s to a long-awaited back to school, let’s make it the best one yet.
And for another sweet way to stay connected with your kiddos we have a little surprise! We've been working on some adorable little lunch box notes to help ease the transition and offer a way to stay connected during the school day. A little note from mom or dad can go a long way - we hope these add some cheer to your little one's first days back.