Transitioning Back to School: Helpful Resources for Parents

At long last, our children are returning to the classroom. Each school, community, and region will adhere to its own set of rules as dictated by local government and educators.

Chai Lifeline, through its Project Chai Crisis Intervention and Trauma arm, has been working with day schools, _chadarim_ and yeshivos in providing guidance to faculty for optimizing the return-to-school process. Teachers and _rebbeim_ are sensitized to the many realities and challenges which families have encountered these many months. These have ranged from quarantine to isolation to distancing, illness, and loss. We have encouraged schools to partner with parents in assuring that students will adapt to the school day and its various expectations and demands.

In consulting with hundreds of parents over the past few months, we are aware of patterns that some children have shown in adjusting to the recent changes in their lives. Many factors could impede the pace of adapting to the school setting. We offer the following recommendations to parents to help support their children as they readjust to the first weeks back at school:

Restoring sleep cycle: Assure that each child has a bed-time and a wake-time which is compatible with the school day schedule. This will energize them to get through the school day.

Reoutfit: Even children who will be participating in home-based classes initially should return to the practice of dressing in regular clothes, and spending most of their time out of their bedrooms. Some children have spent weeks in pajamas, in their rooms. Normalizing school-year behavior helps children recalibrate.

Reorganize: Routine, schedule, and structure are fundamental for wellness in all spheres. Reconstruct for your family a normative daily routine, set scheduled time for the activities in their routine, and provide structure so that study, socialization, meals, relaxing, exercise, creativity, and family time are included every day. This needs to include “fun” time, especially when children have had less time with friends and classmates.

Reacquaint: Familiarize yourself with the school’s policies and expectations as to masks, distancing, hygiene and safety precautions, and promote to your child an unambiguous supportive attitude so that they adhere to and comply with the school policy. Your school has consulted with health professionals as well as with _halachic_ authorities as to the standards which they are to follow herein. Model for your child that you too accept and will reinforce the school’s standards for attendance, participation, and conduct.

Re-engage: Be attentive to and accepting of your child’s subjective feelings and thoughts. Encourage open discussion with them, be supportive, hear them, and provide them with consolation, encouragement, and incentives to return to their life routines of school attendance, school work, home responsibilities, and family interactions. This has been a very challenging time for them and for you. Be sensitive to each child’s experience and show them patience while modeling for them the values that you set for them as students and as Jewish young people.

Relax and Refresh: Adjusting to changes in the school environment will be a gradual process. Many children had little “vacation” over the summer and their young bodies and minds may be restless after these many months. Schedule family time and individual time for them to relax, to engage in enjoyment, to voice their frustrations, and to experience your care and nurturing. Their stresses are not identical to our adult stresses, and their thoughts and feelings will be different than our own after coping with COVID-19. Allow them to be children, at whatever age and level they are. They will adjust easier to their frustrations when they sense that you are not frustrated with them.

If you have any concerns about your child, or if there is information which you feel that the school administration and/or faculty should be aware of, please contact the principal or head of school. For example, if the family has sustained illness, loss, hardships, or other stresses which might be affecting your child’s concentration, focus, or demeanor, the school will work with you in facilitating adjustment with great sensitivity to the child’s situation. We have provided many schools with checklists for parents to help facilitate a partnership between parents and the school administration. These are intended to alert the school to the individual needs of each student so that the faculty can optimize the classroom experience for all. The school respects each family and its concerns and wants you to have confidence that they are there for you and your children.

Be attentive to lingering changes in your child, which generally are common and are essentially normal reactions to being in a different life routine for an extended time. Fatigue, withdrawal, anxiety, mood and energy changes, irritability, low attention span, uneven concentration levels, and apathy can appear even after the objective stresses associated with quarantine and COVID-19 concerns may have faded. It may take time for your child to recalibrate and some of the above signs may continue to surface at home, at school, and socially.

With Torah blessings for a new year of sweetness and healthy adjustment!

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox is the Director of Interventions & Community Education at Project Chai, the crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement department of Chai Lifeline.
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