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Tips for parents on managing their children’s transitions back into the upcoming school year

Samantha Brady, LCSW, a Senior Social Worker with Metropolitan’s Adoption Support and Preservation program, shares advice for parents on transitioning children back to their school routines amid the pandemic

As we know, parenting is one of the hardest and most patience-testing jobs we will ever do.

For most of us, and especially parents with adopted children, we rely on school so we can take a break to recharge and prepare for the mornings, nights and weekends. What do we do when sending our children back to school is not possible, or if they will only be there part time, or if school provokes anxiety due to the current Covid-19 pandemic?

Many of the summer break activities, play dates, and camps we rely on for our breaks and to be able to work were canceled, so we are all ready to get our kids back into school. As we enter into this unknown chapter of school, how do we survive the day-to-day life and continue to provide our kids with the balance of structure and nurture? How do we use self-care when we cannot even take a shower without interruptions? How do we help our kids engage in eLearning or attempt to teach them when we have no education background?

Here are some tips to manage the transition back into this upcoming school year.

First things first, we need to remember to be playful. Not only does it help our kids avoid becoming dysregulated, or prone to overreaction, it also teaches them at the same time – and keeps us in a good mood as well! The more we are able to keep the train on the tracks, the more in control we will feel; this tends to help us as parents stay regulated as well.

Be as consistent with your routine as possible, and prepare your kids to be flexible when something does not work out. Have your calendar printed where everyone in the house can see it (if you are really on top of it and plan ahead, try adding what you’re having for each meal throughout the week). Have discussions about the unknown of this year. For example: “The school is doing a trial to see if they can keep kids and adults safe in school, if they cannot we might be doing eLearning again. Our schedule will change, but we will get it worked out as quickly as possible.”

Make sure your kids know what they are responsible for, and that you, as the parent, are consistent about enforcing the responsibilities. This will help with your kids with consistency and routine, which is something they thrive on, but they lose when they are not in school full time or doing all eLearning. Even if they complain about it, it helps their brains stay organized. If you are unsure of how to engage your kids in eLearning, or successfully show their achievements, try working with your school. Ask questions! You are not in this alone; the school staff also want your kids to succeed.

Plan for fun activities that cannot be lost if your child has a bad day. Once a week, plan a (safe) outing. It does not have to be a big extravaganza or even cost any money. Some examples: a scavenger hunt at the park with silly prizes, family bike rides, bake your favorite dessert together and take it out for a picnic, drive around in the car and play Pokémon Go or the license plate game. If your child is struggling on the day your fun activity is planned and cannot handle it that day, tell them it is okay, we can reschedule for tomorrow or the next day. Have fun at-home activities hidden away for rainy days, like silly string fights, a new puzzle, ingredients to make slime, shaving cream drawings, sand art, castle building, a new movie, or baking ingredients.

Save screens for times that you need a break. If our kids have access to screens all the time, they do not work when we feel like we need time to pull ourselves together. It will be especially difficult to engage them in screens if they are eLearning for five hours a day. Kids’ brains need a break from screens to play with toys or their siblings, or even to do chores.

Expect your child to have difficulty transitioning from their summer routine to their school routine. This time period is going to be challenging, and what is happening in the world is traumatic for both kids and adults. Help them understand that is okay to feel dysregulated during these times. Be proactive; teach your child how to do the magic mustache, chair sit-ups, or a breathing activity to help them regulate their emotions. Let them know that your will be there for them.

Remember, it is normal for our kids to have a bad day or a bad couple of days. It is also normal for them to be defiant or want to be in control. Allow them to have control over parts of their schedule, or plan meals together. Look at your child as just that, a child, who is learning, growing and becoming independent. See what is causing their behavior, and then attempt to help them work through it. The more we empathize with our children and avoid becoming irritated with them, the happier everyone in the house will be.

The Adoption Support and Preservation program provides home-based intervention to families formed through adoption or subsidized guardianship. Counseling, crisis intervention and 24-hour on-call assistance help address adjustment, grief/loss resolution, attachment, educational and emotional issues. This DCFS-supported program also provides therapeutic respite services, psycho-educational and support groups, workshops, and help securing resources. Learn more about Adoption Support and Preservation