While we’re all excited to finally be in classrooms, it’s natural for some kids to feel anxious or concerned as they readjust to school, especially after the difficult year and a half we’ve all experienced. To find out how families can help ease this transition for their scholars, we talked to the experts: Rachel Duvall-Holleran, a specialist on SA’s Social-Emotional Learning team, and our very own Success Academy parents.
Children and adults thrive on routine — not having to worry about what’s next frees up our brain space to be productive and spend our time on the things we love. In fact, this premise is at the core of Success Academy’s approach to classroom management: When scholars know exactly what’s expected of them and can complete routine tasks efficiently, classrooms run smoothly and scholars can more easily focus on what’s important: learning and exploring the world around them. And, as is so often the case, establishing positive habits in the classroom requires us to practice and reinforce these behaviors at home. Ms. Duvall-Holleran — a parent and trained school psychologist — shares, “During this period of remote learning and working, we all got rusty. Re-instilling routines at home helps kids better transition into the school environment.“
Routines can also help anxious scholars worry less, providing them with an important tool during times of change and adjustment. “Predictable routines at home and school can cut down on a lot of ‘what if?’” Ms. Duvall-Holleran explains. “We reduce the opportunity for kids to worry when we let them know what to expect.”
“The biggest help for us is to do as much prep the night before school as possible. Our scholars enjoy stocking their lunch boxes with snacks and drinks for the next day, then they lay out their uniform and plug in their tech next to their bookbags,” shares Nichole Turner, mom of SA Flatbush second grader Boaz and SA East Flatbush Middle School fifth grader James.
For older scholars, routines can be a framework for building independence while maintaining guardrails. “At this age, Leonardo creates his own routines. It makes him feel ready, prepared, and ultimately less anxious,” shares Chiara Ponticelli, whose son is an eighth grader at SA Midtown West Middle School. SA Springfield Gardens Middle School mom Chenelle Grant has seen the same effects with her fifth grader Giovanni: “It gives him a schedule so he can be independent while still knowing what to expect.”
We All Need Somebody to Lean On
Strong relationships can help us feel more comfortable with big changes. For families, this means building connections with your scholar’s school by keeping them in the loop about what’s going on at home. Doing so, Ms. Duvall-Holleran advises, will help strengthen the relationship between your scholar and their teacher and equip your scholar’s school to identify additional supports that might help them thrive. The more families and schools communicate, the better prepared schools are to support scholars effectively.
SA Bronx 4 Mom Lamia Zitouni agrees. “Keep in constant communication with your scholar’s school. Even when things may seem irrelevant or small, still discuss them with school to make sure everyone is on the same page. Engage the teacher — even when everything is going well. I know that if I don’t know what’s happening in the classroom, I can’t assist my child. Teachers are experts in education, but they can’t fully educate my child on their own!”
For scholars, positive relationships with peers provide a support system that makes school comfortable and fun — which can go a long way toward easing the transition to the classroom. Ms. Duvall-Holleran advises parents to talk to their children about who their friends are and even strike up conversation with other parents at arrival or dismissal. SA Williamsburg dad Sebastian Stolzenberger makes these types of conversations part of his son Maxwell’s every day routine. “We talk about the social dynamics with classmates and educators each day! If there are kids he’s bonding with or expresses an interest in, I’ll ask him to point them out at dismissal so I can introduce myself to the child and their family and organize an activity after school or on the weekend.”
If your child is shy about approaching their peers, a confidence-boosting pep talk can go a long way. “I remind Shamaya that anyone would be lucky to have her as a friend,” says SA East Flatbush Middle School mom Kimberly Hodge. “I remind my son Zi’on that he can be brave, and that the other child may feel shy too! I encourage him to think about how happy he’d be if someone asked him to come and play,” shares SA Prospect Heights dad Charles Taylor.
Talk it Out
Talking about your own day may help your scholar open up and share about theirs, giving you important insight into how they’re really feeling about being back in class. “I try to tell my kids about a fun, silly, or important event from my day. Giving them this nudge sometimes helps them remember something similar from their day, which opens the door for me to say ‘tell me more,’” Charles explains. This strategy often works especially well for teenagers. Mom Chiara models open communication by talking to her son about her day and how different events made her feel. “Sometimes it seems like he’s not listening,” she says, “but he is, and it comes out in different ways.”
Above all? Listen. Jasmine Mendez, whose scholars Annabelle, Alexandria, and Jose attend SA Crown Heights, reflects, “I think the trick here is actually caring what they have to say and not only talking about major events, but about all the small moments too. We’ve always been super talkative together, and that’s really helped us with the back-to-school transition.”
While there is no one “right way” to adjust to being back in the classroom, if your scholar is demonstrating any of these behaviors, they may benefit from a personalized support plan:
- Experience emotional outbursts that negatively impact their ability to perform academically;
- Have significant difficulty connecting with others and establishing and maintaining friendships;
- Demonstrate depression or significant anxiety in non-threatening situations, particularly when academics are negatively impacted;
- Have recently experienced a loss, particularly that of a closed loved one; or
- Show behaviors of self-harm.
Get in touch with your scholar’s teacher or senior leader if you think they would benefit from additional support.
Pictured Above: Rachel Duvall-Holleran with an SA scholar