Back to school is a little… ahem… A LOT different this year. How can we prepare kids for what is to come? The transition from summer to school can be daunting in a normal year. It is especially challenging when we as adults don’t know what to expect and are feeling anxious about a multitude of changes and worries. Children can pick up on this, as they look to adults for how to react or how to feel about something new.
Here are some tips from an occupational therapist at First Steps to help parents navigate this uncharted territory.
1. Check in with yourself and how you are feeling. If possible, talk about this with your child. Share that you are nervous but trying to stay calm by taking deep breaths. (Or however you are feeling and managing these feelings. There is no wrong way to feel!) Model for them that even adults have trouble managing big feelings. This can help them understand their emotions, learn how to overcome them, and not feel alone in their feelings.
2. Prepare your child for change. Knowing what to expect can decrease fear and anxiety. Depending on your child’s age and understanding, this can be a conversation at the dinner table about what school will look like this year. Stories and books can provide opportunities for children to learn or understand what is happening. Social stories can teach social skills, help establish routines, help children understand concepts, and assist in overcoming fears or preoccupations.
o Follow this like to find some examples of social stories directly addressing COVID-19: https://www.autismlittlelearners.com/2020/07/covid-19-related-stories-for-schools.html
3. Prepare the child to be successful in taking care of their bodily needs.
o Work on washing hands thoroughly at home. Try teaching the child to wash the front
and back of their hands and each finger. Singing the ABCs or another familiar song can
teach the child how long is appropriate to wash hands.
o Teach the child to cough or sneeze into their elbow. Reward or verbally praise to
reinforce this behavior.
o Teach the child to first wash hands before every meal, snack time, or interaction with
food. ‘First, then’ language can be concrete and clear. Example: “First wash hands,
Even with thorough preparation, the return to school can be difficult for many families. Please try any of these strategies that you feel would work with your children; but, if you still feel overwhelmed, feel free to talk to your child’s therapist about your concerns!
Written by: Sydney Pelster, MOT, OTR/L
Edited by: Whitney Redler, OTD, OTR/L
Case-Smith, J., & O'Brien, J. C. (2015). Occupational therapy for children and adolescents (7th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.