Helping Your Young Child Transition to School in the Pandemic

Contributor: Dr. Elise Herman, KVH Pediatrics

The start of school this year may be a bigger transition than usual for young students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many young kids, education last year was largely done remotely, and for some this school year may be their first time doing in-person learning.

That ‘in-person learning’ will look different due to the pandemic. Desks will be spread out and masks will be worn. Given how important reading facial expressions is, kids may feel a bit uncertain about masked interactions with teachers and friends especially if they have not had to do this much before.

Parents may have worries about their child’s health and have other pandemic stressors related to jobs, financial issues, and the well-being of family members. Some families may have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, and for all of us these past 18 months have been difficult and isolating. Children may pick up on their parents’ worries and feel more stressed themselves.

Many kids have been home with their parents and few others during this time, so may experience separation anxiety when faced with going to school in September. This is in addition to the significant increase in childhood anxiety and depression already noted due to the pandemic.

Parents can help their child by doing the following:

  • Be calm and positive about going to school. Let them know you trust the teachers and school staff to take good care of them. Masking and distancing (as well as vaccinating when age-appropriate) are things we can all do to keep others healthy as well.
  • Get to know your child’s school a bit now. Go to the playground, check out the equipment, walk around the school grounds, and snap some photos. Look up the school on-line. Seeing a photo of your child’s teacher and the school will make things easier. According to Lincoln Elementary principal JoAnne Duncan, local students will receive a “welcome letter” in August with important school information. Parents are encouraged to call the school office if they have any further questions.
  • Summer learning, art classes, playdates, and camp programs help your child feel more comfortable interacting with others and being away from you. As we all know, social skills were lost by people of all ages during the pandemic, and we need a little practice to regain those skills.
  • Get back into the public library again, read daily with your child, show your enthusiasm for learning. Making it a habit to go once a week to the library speaks volumes to a child.
  • Start working now towards that early morning wake-up time. Kids should get 9-12 hours of sleep a night; less than that can impact learning and behavior.
  • Establish good routines for eating and exercise. Many children ate unhealthfully and gained extra weight during the pandemic. Getting back to good eating habits and family meals helps kids (and adults) feel better. Regular exercise (especially outside) helps fitness, mood, sleep, and learning—good for the whole family!

Knowing that there are things you can do to help your child with the transition to school especially in view of the pandemic should make this milestone feel less overwhelming and more positive.