I’m a Pediatric Psychologist and Mom, and Here’s How I Think We Can Prepare Our Kids to Go Back to School This Fall

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I’m a pediatric psychologist, parent coach, business owner and mom of two children (ages 10 and 7). Like the rest of the world, I was unprepared for the quarantine, isolation and social distancing that took place. Like many of you, my kids and I were confused (“What? A new virus that does what?”), sometimes thrilled (“We don’t have to go to school?!”) and fearful (“Stay away from that man, mom. He has the corona!”). It has truly been a mix of feelings, which are all valid.

But now that summer is in full swing, and we’re thinking ahead to school reopenings, I firmly think it’s time to prepare kids for what’s to come, whether schools reopen or continue virtually. Here’s how I think we can prepare our kids to go back to school this fall (which, honestly, is right around the corner).

Start the conversation now

None of us want to make a last-minute decision about something that is particularly important. Before this year, you probably didn’t have much thought into whether your kids were going to school or not. This year, it’s different. So, it is important to speak to your kids now and often, while brainstorming ideas for what school might look like. Full day? Partial days? Virtual? Homeschool? Private teacher? There are many options, but you won’t know the best one unless you are having these conversations.

Get kids socializing

Whatever you decide regarding the type of schooling or education your kids receive, many kids need to learn to be social again. Helping your child socialize in meaningful and safe ways will be important in order to reduce isolation, improve mood, and get them ready for the influx of social interactions in the fall (especially if they return to school). Here are some tips for how to playdate safely, and here are some Zoom ideas, if you’d rather stick to virtual hangs.

Adjust bedtimes and wake times

Don’t do it all at once, but this is going to be important when the fall arrives. So, slowly and gradually start adjusting their sleep-wake cycle to do your entire household a favor. After all, going from a 9 am to 6 am is best done over time.

Read 20 minutes per day

 It is a small thing, but so important. If your kids are on their devices all day (I’ll talk about that next), they will have less of a desire or willpower to read. This will make it challenging to get into the routine of school. Reading helps with comprehension, spelling and building your child’s vocabulary and language skills. Plus, it’s an excellent chance to cuddle before bedtime.

Limit screen time

 This is probably going to be the most challenging thing ever. However, time away from screens stimulates healthy social skills and physical activity. Children who are on devices less learn to regulate their focus, attention and emotions better. What’s the ultimate goal? No more than two hours per day (eek!) I know, I know. Just try to do it gradually.

Accept they will likely be behind this academic year

 As your kids return to school, it is important to accept that they will have gaps in their learning from the fiasco that was their last academic year. They may not have learned or understood several concepts. That’s okay. Be patient and gentle with this process. Remind their teachers, yourself and your kids of this. This will also be an important conversation to have with your kids when you talk about what school will look like.

Just remember: We are all winging it and figuring this out as we go along. Psychological flexibility, adapting to changing conditions and course correcting will be your biggest assets.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart is a married mom of 2, living in San Antonio. She is a pediatric psychologist and parent coach.