Back to School

Gearing Up and Getting Ready for School

Several months ago, we suddenly found ourselves in a world full of unpredictability and uncertainty. This is still continuing to evolve, and we have all been impacted in different ways by the pandemic. On a typical year, returning to school in the fall can be a difficult transition for children and families. This fall, the return to school will look much different than in years past. It is the end of summer and many students, parents, and teachers are unsure of what the next school year will look like for them.

  • Will children go back to school full time? 
  • What happens if COVID 19 cases increase in Alberta?
  • Will online learning continue?

No two children or families have been affected by COVID-19 in the same way, but many of us have had feelings of anxiety and stress over the past few months. Now more than ever, parents and teachers are an important part in facilitating the learning, wellbeing, and growth of children and youth.

back to school boy

How Might Children Respond to Uncertainty?

It is normal to be unsettled and concerned about the upcoming school year. Nobody knows how long this pandemic will last or how long it will take until we can go back to our “regular lives”. Many children respond to stress in different ways, but generally parents, caregivers, and teachers might notice changes in:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Sleep routines
  • Weight
  • School performance
  • Mood
  • Disruptive behaviour
  • Lack of participation in pleasurable activities
  • Engaging in social activities (virtual or in person) with friends and families  
  • Worry

As Parents, What Can You Do to Get Your Children Ready for September?

Accept Negative Emotions

It is important to acknowledge any anxious, angry, or sad thoughts and emotions that may appear during this time. As parents, support your child in accepting these emotions and talking about them rather than refuting or denying them.  Research shows that avoiding our emotions only makes them stronger and longer lasting. 

What can you do if your child experiences negative emotions?

  • Try Mindfulness Practice! Notice negative emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations then they occur, explore them with curiosity, describe them without judgment, and then let them go. Check out Headspace, Mindful, and Calm.
  • Show caring by noticing changes in your child’s behaviour. For example, you can respond with: “You don’t seem like yourself lately, what is going on?” Provide opportunities for your child to express their feelings. If taking about their feelings is to challenging, invite them to draw or write about their experiences and feelings.
  • Talk it out! If you notice a change in your child’s behaviour and they are experiencing difficulty in sharing and communicating their thoughts and feelings, it may be a good idea for your child to chat with a counselor or therapist. ISE is offering free therapy sessions to children and youth who are struggling to cope during this time. Sometimes just talking to a caring professional outside of your home can be helpful for children during times of worry.

Do Your Part to Prepare Your Child for a Safe Return to School

Schools play a critical role in supporting the whole child, not just the academic achievement of students. More than ever, schools have a fundamental role in supporting the social and emotional health of students. Although resuming in-person instruction can support student’s social and emotional well-being, it is important that parents and caregivers plan and prepare for the upcoming school year. 

How can you plan for in-person classes?

  • Review and practice hand washing techniques. Check out CDC’s article on how you can make handwashing a family activity or five easy steps for handwashing .
  • Talk to your child about precautions they can take at school, such as:
    • Wearing a mask
    • Practicing hand hygiene and using hand sanitizer
    • Keeping appropriate physical distance
    • Avoid sharing objects with other students, such as water bottles, school supplies etc.
  • Be familiar with your school’s plan in responding to COVID-19 and communicate this with your family.
  • If your child has an Individual Program Plan or receives other supports such as Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or Speech & Language Therapy, ask your school how these services will continue in a safe way.

How can I address the mental health and social-emotional wellbeing of my child?

  • It will be important to talk to your child about how school and interactions with classmates will be different. Find out how your child is feeling and validate those feelings and emotions.
  • Create new routines and take time to reinvent self-care. Research has shown that planning and executing new routines that connect you with what really matters in life are some of the best ingredients for a good mental health. As best as you can, try and establish structure and a sense of purpose with your new routine. It is important that you don’t abandon your physical and mental health. 
    • Don’t forget to be flexible with your plans and adapt/change them as needed.
  • Stay positive! Although you as parents may be feeling frustrated or anxious with the school reopening plans set forth by provincial or local jurisdictions, try to avoid expressing these frustrations or anger with children. Children learn through observation – keep conversations about school re-starting in September positive end encouraging. Whether you decide to send your child to school in September or keep your child home for remote learning, keep in mind that your child will be reacting to this situation in a way that mimics your own.
  • Anticipate changes in your child’s behaviour. If your child is struggling to cope with anxiety, stress, and/or negative emotions the following resources may be helpful:  


CDC. (2020). Communities, Schools, Workplaces, & Events. Centers for Disease Controland Prevention. 

Chawla, N., & Ostafin, B. (2007). Experiential avoidance as a functional dimensional approach to psychopathology: An empirical review. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(9), 871–890. doi:10.1002/jclp.20400

Fitzpatrick, B. R., Berends, M., Ferrare, J. J., & Waddington, R. J. (2020). Virtual illusion: Comparing student achievement and teacher and classroom characteristics in online and brick-and-mortar charter schools. Educational Researcher, 49(3), 161–175. doi:10.3102/0013189X20909814

Kecmanovic, J. (2020). Perspective | A psychologist’s science-based tips for emotional resilience during the coronavirus crisis. Washington Post.

Twohig, M. P., & Levin, M. E. (2017). Acceptance and commitment therapy as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 40(4), 751–770. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2017.08.009