Mālama Ola Minute is a series brought to you by the Kamehameha Schools Mālama Ola Division to increase awareness, promote discussion, and offer tools to improve the physical and mental health of our haumāna.
Each fall, parents and guardians are tasked with managing back-to-school transitions. Usually this means shopping for school supplies and clothing, registering for sports and activities and developing a daily schedule. But with COVID-19, the start of this school year feels very different.
In this time of COVID-19, parents, guardians and children are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and stress. They may feel nervous about contracting and spreading COVID-19 at school, frustrated by vague reopening plans and skeptical of whether children are able to follow social-distancing and mask protocols.
Parents and guardians play an influential role in helping keiki cope, encouraging a positive back-to-school transition and helping to reduce anxiety and worries. Following are some expert tips on how to to help ensure a smooth transition.
Have honest and open discussions
It’s important to have honest, factual and open conversations with your keiki about COVID-19 and returning to school. Tailor the depth and breadth of conversations based on your child’s age and maturity level.
For example, with a younger child in grades 1 to 3, spend some time talking about what might look different this year. Their class size may be smaller and teachers may be wearing masks. For older children, ask if there are specific things they are worried or concerned about, and talk these through with them.
Acknowledge and support your child’s anxiety about things that may be out of their control (like their friends contracting COVID-19) but explain to them that it is best to focus on what we can control. This is a good time to reinforce the importance of washing their hands, not touching their face, using hand-sanitizer and keeping their distance from others.
Listen, validate, help to problem-solve
If your keiki seems to be struggling, start by listening carefully to their concerns. Validate your child’s feelings by making a caring statement that reflects their fears, such as: “I can understand why you feel worried about returning to school, especially when there are so many changes happening because of COVID-19.”
Help your child face their fears by promoting problem-solving. Together, identify a few possible solutions and then help them identify which solution seems best. You can discuss different options or role-play solutions to help your child build confidence. If a solution does not work, talk about why then come up with a different solution.
Focus on things going well
While it’s important to acknowledge children’s anxieties, you should also motivate your child to focus on the things they are looking forward to. Children are likely excited to see friends, peers or teachers in person. They may positively anticipate a daily school routine and take pride in their role as a student or in minimizing COVID-related risks.
Before school starts, you can ask, “What are you looking forward to on your first day of school?” or “What have you missed about school?” Once school starts, you can ask: “What was the best thing that happened today?”
Build a predictable routine
Usually, things we can control makes us feel safe because they are predictable, while things that are out of our control can lead to feelings of anxiety because they are unpredictable.
One way to build feelings of safety and security in children during COVID-19 is by creating a daily routine, beginning with consistent times for meals, waking up and going to bed. Before or after school, engage your child in planned, shared activities like making breakfast, reading together, or having virtual talk-story time with friends and family.
Model calm behavior
It’s natural for you to feel uncertain and worried during this difficult time. However, as much as possible, try to model calm and confident attitudes about returning to school for your child and use positive language when saying goodbye, and empathy when responding to tantrums, protests or crying.
Caring for your well-being and mental health can help you model calm behavior around your keiki. So be kind to yourself and seek out those you can turn to when you are struggling or troubled by these unprecedented circumstances. You can also seek mental health services.
While this year’s transition back to school is different, we can help our keiki feel optimistic by listening to and validating their worries, teaching them coping strategies, reviewing safety protocols and supporting them when they find things difficult. Ultimately, our kids need us to lead the way for a successful back-to-school transition and to develop the lifelong skills they need for navigating challenges.
Please refer to the Kamehameha Schools COVID-19 health guide for more information on the transition back to school and to the Malama Ola COVID-19 parent resource page for additional help.
Ka ʻike a ka mākua he hei na ke keiki.
The knowledge of the parent is absorbed by the child.
Back-to-School Anxiety During COVID
Child Mind Institute
Preparing Your Child to Go Back to School In-Person
Child Mind Institute
Teenagers and Back-to-School Stress
Child Mind Institute
Safe Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 Pandemic: Helping Young Children and Parents Transition Back to School
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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