by Megan Sater, BYS Counselor
The return to school is always a transitional time, with relaxed summer days giving way to early mornings, busy hallways, and heavy backpacks filled with books and homework. While this September’s return to school mirrored many aspects of years prior, it also came with a layer of unprecedented complexity for both students and parents to navigate.
As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” To deny that the past eighteen months have not brought about significant change would be in direct opposition with reality. In stark contrast to the early days of the pandemic, in-person learning is now prioritized and expected. School buses are filled with masked and distanced children, bravely headed out to face a new world. While it would be easy to pretend that a return to in-person learning will transport us back to a pre-pandemic place, it is just not that simple.
For the past year and a half, we have been living under a dark cloud of the unknown. With public messaging repeating phrases such as “stay home, stay safe” and “practice social distancing- stop the spread,” it is easy to understand why a crowded hallway, or an unmasked, crowded lunchroom may now be a source of anxiety for many students – especially those who are old enough to understand the unpredictability of this strange new virus.
Many school-aged children are struggling socially. Developmental and cultural milestones have come and passed, many of which are typically witnessed and celebrated in the arms of community. The freshmen of 2019 are now juniors, navigating unfamiliar hallways with PSATs and college expectations looming. Where has the time gone? In addition, the leniency of the year prior, with its flexibility surrounding homework deadlines and attendance, is quickly disappearing. Stress is mounting for many students in relation to academics and extracurricular activities alike, with health and safety still at the forefront of their minds.
Many adults wonder how they can help ease the challenges of this transitional time while also supporting their children in moving towards their dreams and goals. The answers, like many in our current world, are multifaceted. There is great truth in the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Parents: you deserve to be nurtured too. Reach out to your sources of support – friends, extended family, community organizations, etc. Take time to process and reflect – the past eighteen months have been challenging for everyone.
Once you feel grounded (even somewhat grounded is fine!), create space for honest communication with your child/children. Regardless of their age, kids always benefit from being able to express themselves without the fear of judgment. Talk to your kids about how the return to school has been going, and not just in an academic sense. Explore their feelings surrounding safety and social dynamics, trying your best to normalize their experiences while providing comfort and understanding. Using age-appropriate examples from your own life and personal experiences can also be helpful. In addition, be mindful of setting reasonable expectations surrounding grades and academic performance while realizing that this is a difficult time for many young people. Balance is key.
It can also be helpful for parents to create and maintain a sense of routine and predictability in the home environment, especially when their children are displaying symptoms of anxiety. Staying consistent with the timing of certain points throughout the day such as meals, bedtime, homework, screen time, and family connection can provide comfort for kids of all ages. Children who feel supported at home are better equipped to handle challenges in the outside world with confidence and resilience.
If you feel as if your child would benefit from speaking with a counselor, please encourage them to reach out to BYS. Our professional mental health counseling staff is available to support youth ages 13-21. For more information or to request an appointment, please go to askbys.org.