For millions of children, the end of summer means the beginning of their first year in school. Due to the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding schools reopening, many children will be attending their first day of school virtually from home and some parents might be wondering what this will look like.
Kindergarten is an exciting time for learning, growth, and exploration as your child becomes more independent. Although their first day of kindergarten might look very different from your memories of going to school, you can still prepare your child to have a fun and exciting year of learning from the comfort of home.
Here’s how you can set your kindergartener up for success and help them make the best of the new school year, no matter where they’re learning.
Let Them Tell You Their Concerns
Whether you will be instructing your child yourself in a homeschool setting or helping them navigate online lessons from their school, your child will likely have some questions and concerns about what to expect. For children who have never attended any type of group daycare or school program, the entire idea of school can seem overwhelming.
Make space for your child to come to you with their questions and be sure to reassure them that you’ll be there to help if needed. You can help your child feel more comfortable with the transition by talking to them about what their days of online school might look like and what activities they might do. You can also involve your child in the process of getting ready for school by letting them pick out their school supplies (like notebooks, markers, and backpacks), even if they will be learning from home.
Be Honest About Changes
Although you might have some idea of what to expect from your child’s virtual learning environment, it’s okay, to be honest and tell them that you don’t know exactly what it will look like. Additionally, while many schools are beginning the year virtually, no one knows what school schedules will look like in a month or two based on a variety of factors.
Keep your child prepared for the possibility of change and avoid making any promises about if and when they will be able to attend in-person classes. Be sure to present your child with information about schedule changes in an age-appropriate manner and keep them informed about changes as you become aware of new schedules. Children will often rely on their imaginations to fill in the gaps when they have questions and lack information.
Establish Strong Routines
Children thrive when they feel safe and secure. Even in the midst of a pandemic when there is so much uncertainty, you can help your child feel a sense of predictability and control by helping to establish strong routines. Some key routines might include:
- Waking up at the same time every day
- Reading for at least 20 minutes each day with a parent
- Eating meals at the table with the family
- Doing bedtime activities in a consistent order (e.g. bathe, brush teeth, put on pajamas)
- Going to bed at the same time every day
Your child will also likely develop routines throughout the school day as they adjust to their new class schedule and come to find activities or lessons that they enjoy and look forward to.
Keep It Short and Sweet
At this age, children can only focus on one activity or subject for about 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Be sure to incorporate lots of little breaks for playing throughout the school day, especially if you have more control over what their schedule will look like. If you’re working from home, this will also be a good time to start establishing boundaries around your work time and making it clear to your child that they will need to occupy themselves for short periods of time while you complete other tasks. Adults can provide children with options for safe activities like playing with building blocks, board games, or listening to music to keep them entertained throughout the day.
Build Up Your Child’s Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy means that your child feels like they have agency or control within their own lives and it is a crucial element to raising independent, confident children. Developing a sense of self-efficacy is especially important during times of uncertainty when children can start to play a more active role in their days.
For example, this might start with smaller tasks, like your child being able to dress themselves or wash their hands. You can build up to larger tasks such as helping cook in the kitchen or picking up after yourself around the house. When children are able to complete tasks on their own they can feel more in control of the world around them and confident in their ability to get through difficult or challenging situations.
Make Some Time for Self-Care
Oftentimes, children will mirror the way adults respond to stressful situations. If you find yourself wanting to pull your hair out every time you and your child sit down to read a book or solve a math problem, your child will quickly pick up on your frustration and other behaviors.
Model healthy ways to handle stress as well as establish boundaries around alone time. Adults can practice healthy coping skills by engaging in deep breathing, meditation, journaling, yoga, or any number of other acts of self-care and explaining their importance to their children. Additionally, if you start to struggle with very high levels of stress or anxiety, take care of yourself and your family by seeking out professional mental health services. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
When to Seek Out Professional Help
With solid routines and strong relationships, most children will be able to get through difficult situations after an adjustment period. However, if you notice your child is routinely having a difficult time adapting to changes, you might need to speak to a professional. Here are some signs to watch for that might signal it’s time to seek out professional help:
- Frequent nightmares
- Excessive focus on anxieties
- Increased anger or aggression
- Regressive behaviors
- Toileting accidents even if they are potty trained
Many mental health professionals are able to meet with families via telehealth services, so you can address your child’s needs without having to go to an office for an in-person appointment.
Regardless of whether your child is starting kindergarten in a classroom or in your living room, your attitude can help them have a successful year full of new adventures, discoveries, and opportunities to grow. It may not be the school year you or your child were expecting, but it will certainly be a memorable one!
To learn more about how you can help your child cope with difficult situations or for advice on parenting during difficult times, check out our webinars and sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay up to date with events, classes, and Jefferson Center’s actions toward cultivating healthier, happier communities.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 720-791-2735 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.