Back to School For 2021/22 During Covid Times
Updated: Aug 30
Transitions. The beginning of school is always a time of transition. Whether it involves changing schools or bumping up a grade, there's much anticipation and a mix of emotions with equal parts excitement and nervousness for
students and parents alike.
The start of the 2021-22 school year, however, is a transition like no other. The social, emotional and academic aspects of returning to in-person learning after 18 months of pandemic life will be challenging for many kids - especially with masks on all day while the Delta variant continues to make life uncertain.
During this time, parents and caregivers should be extra attuned to their child's emotions and needs. Presence and communication is key. A silver lining to the pandemic is that many parents who were working long hours outside the home now are working from home, with fewer trips to the office and out of town for business. As a result, parents may have more time to be present, talk with and listen to your child. This includes imparting your family values and expectations about substance use and opportunities to check in with and keep tabs on your child. This blog will give you tips for doing so.
And, if your child is having a particularly tough time, see this past BTI blog for tips from anxiety expert Lisa D'Amour to help your child manage stress and anxiety during coronavirus times.
TIPS FOR TALKING TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT SCHOOL
"How was your day?"
Every afternoon, parents all over the world have been getting the same frustrating one-word answer. Now is the time to break this pattern - and the Covid pandemic actually may provide additional help in doing so. It can be easier to get your child to open up when they are nervous and feeling insecure about the start of a new school or school year. And because of this year's return to in-person learning, there is a lot of uncertainty and more material to cover than usual. Here are some ideas to get your child talking about school and what's going on in their life to get - beyond the standard "OK" response.
First, despite any reluctance to share the details of their private world, know that talking with your child about school shows you're interested in what's going on in their life. This in turn boosts your child's mental health, happiness and well being. It also shows your child that you are there when they are ready to talk.
Timing. To ease the transition from school or after-school activities to home, avoid asking lots of questions right away. You can just let your child know that you're glad to see them and talk about non-school topics for a while. Saving questions about homework for later can
also take the pressure off. There may be days when your child doesn't want to talk so try to sense their mood and pick the right moment. Some days there might not be a right moment at all.
Conversational Style. Ask questions from a place of curiosity. There is a lot to be curious
about this year so you may want to ask the big questions. "What's different about going back to school this year versus two years ago?" "How are you feeling about that - are you still taking time to adjust or are you feeling back in the swing of things?" "Now that you are back in the classroom, are you feeling confident that you kept up remotely last year academically?" "Are there any subjects you feel like you may need to catch up on?" "Are your teachers being understanding?" "Has anything changed socially after being away?" "What about in your friend group?" "How are the other kids doing?" "Are some having a tough time?" There is much ground to cover this year!
If that isn't working, ask simple, positive and specific open-ended questions about parts of the day that you would have asked before Covid, e.g., what was the highlight of school today? Which friends did you connect most with? Any new ones? Which classes met today? What projects are you working on at the moment? Or try focusing on future plans such as the links between his schoolwork and what your child wants to do after he is finished with school. For example, "how's the webpage you're designing in your technology class coming along? Are you still thinking you might want to study web design in college?"
Staying connected to your child can help you balance a respect for their independence and privacy with your need to know what's going on. It can also help you pick up the
on the moments when your child is ready to talk. And when you're in touch with your child's feelings about school, you're more likely to see problems before they get too big. This way you can work on overcoming challenges together. Finally, talking about school issues is a great way for you to express your family values about things like following the rules, giving school and activities your best effort and what it takes to do so, e.g., maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. This can segue into a discussion about family expectations relating to substance use.
THE "4 C's of PARENTING ADOLESCENTS AND "PROTECTIVE FACTORS" AGAINST YOUTH SUBSTANCE USE
Another factor to bear in mind about transitioning back to school are the studies showing the highest risk periods for substance use among youth are during major transitions in children's lives. As we've discussed, this year is a big transition with uncertainty remaining. Moreover, mental health has suffered during the pandemic.
It has been well documented that rates of
and other substance use have gone up among adults during the pandemic. Some kids also have turned to substance use out of boredom or to escape mental health issues and these patterns may continue. One study revealed concerning numbers about kids using substances such as vaping cannabis from home, while FaceTiming friends. And some parents have loosened their rules against substance use at home, understandably feeling badly for their kids' social isolation and wanting to "bond" with them or allowing them to use with friends at home. This can be hard to reverse. Finally, many kids, after a year of no school and no parties, simply are raring to go, which is also understandable. However, this can lead to riskier behavior than usual.
So in addition to being attuned to your child's emotions and staying connected, read on to learn protective factors against substance use and the 4 C's of parenting adolescents: Communication, Clear Rules, Checking Up and Consistency. This is a year to lean in.
Communication With Your Child and With Other Parents/Caregivers on Substance Use.
With your Child. Have ongoing, productive conversations with your child about substance use. Developing good communication skills helps parents catch problems early, support positive behavior, and stay aware of what is happening in their children’s lives. Key communication skills include questioning out of curiosity and listening/observing. With respect to questioning, bear in mind that the kind of information you receive depends a lot on how you ask the question.
Regarding listening and observing, know that youth feel more comfortable bringing and situations to their parents when they believe they will be listened to and not be accused. When listening to your child, remember to use these "active listening" skills:
Repeat back or summarize what your child said.
Emphasize positive behaviors and choices.
If you become aware your child has been using substances, be sure to:
Show interest and/or concern. Don't blame/accuse For example, instead of "How did you get yourself into this situation?" say, "That sounds like a difficult situation. Were you unsure or confused about what to do?"
Encourage problem-solving/thinking. For example, instead of "Well, what did you think was going to happen?" say, "So, what do you think you could have done to have a different outcome?"
For more specifics on how (and how not) to communicate with your child, see this comprehensive BTI list of Tips on Talking With Your Child About Substance Use.
With Other Parents/Caregivers. Regular communication with other parents keeps you involved in your child's activities. It creates a sense of community and provides you with information about what's going on in your child's life that they may not be sharing with you. Other parents also can give you resources for information or to deal with any issues your child is facing. Having a solid community and resources results in a strong safety network for your child and informs you of potentially
risky situations. So take every opportunity to reach out to parents, especially when your child is invited to a friend's house. Ask your child for their contact information or use the BTI Parent List to look them up (if you haven't made the BTI Agreement to gain access to it, do it now!). Don't be shy about calling or texting parents and caregivers - whether to simply introduce yourself and make sure they know they can call you for any reason or if they are hosting a party to thank them for having your child over and confirm they will be home and checking on the kids.
And if a parent isn't a BTI member, then use our Refer a Friend feature to let them know about BTI. Share this Back to School Blog. If they seem unsure, refer them to this BTI webpage that shows it is unwise and counterproductive to allow or turn a blind eye to underage substance use. And that the younger a child starts, the more likely they will have problems in school and later in life, which is why parents can benefit by joining together and doing everything they can to prevent and delay onset of use - and then once using, keep it moderate and safe (which is called "harm reduction").
Another resource to share and to join in on to connect with other like-minded parents/caregivers is the "Let's Talk Marin" Community Discussion Series. Based on two excellent resources in the form of booklets that were mailed in early August to every public school parent of students in 6th grade ("Let's Start Talking") and 9th grade ("Let's Talk"), the followup community discussions are a terrific opportunity not to be missed. Held via Zoom and led by local experts and teens, parents come together to learn about different topics relating to substance use. So check out this year's schedule of topics and be sure to register for reminders. The first session on October 7th, "Understanding Your Pre-teen/Teen" will be a good one - click here to register. And the second session on November 3rd, "Just Say Know" (click here) and "Parenting Tools" (click here) will be other good ones - so be sure to register for those too!
And yet another opportunity for parents/caregivers with students in two of our participating schools are parent-led discussion groups by grade that meet regularly throughout the school year. So check out Redwood Parents Connect and for Archie Williams High School Falcon Families Connect. New groups are formed each year and the Class of 2025 groups are accepting new members.
2. Clear Limits. Establish your family values, limits and boundaries (teens hate the word "rules" but that's what they are!) Clearly state your expectations that your child will not use
alcohol, marijuana, tobacco or other drugs. And that your child should never get in a car with anyone under the influence. This should be non-negotiable rule. Setting limits helps parents teach self-control and responsibility, shows caring and provides safe boundaries. It also provides youth with guidelines and teaches them that following rules is important for their success in life. Other rules may include not being alone at home (your own or another home) without a parent present unless you know the child and give specific permission.
Set curfews and expectations regarding checking in. This lets your child know that you care about his or her safety and that your boundaries are important. Some parents simply want to trust their children, who often resist these efforts. A counter perspective to that is that teens can be trusted to be teens (!) and that trust is earned. Regarding curfews, while not enforced consistently by local police, you may be surprised to know that all Marin towns have an 11 pm or midnight curfew for kids under 18 years old. Parents can use this as justification for a curfew - it's the law.
3. Consistency. Establish that there will be consequences if your child violates your limits and follow through each time. Use a firm and calm tone of voice and avoid arguments. It is normal for kids to react negatively when they receive a consequence. Your child may get angry, act out or isolate themselves when consequences are enforced but don't react — be consistent and follow through.
Offer encouragement each time a rule is followed. Never miss an opportunity to encourage
behavior you would like to see repeated. When giving praise for cooperation, make it simple: “Thank you. I really appreciate that you [fill in the blank]” Do it right away. Be specific about what you like.
4. Checking Up. Get to know your child's friends, especially new ones. Youth tend to be uncertain about themselves and how they "fit in". At times they can feel overwhelmed by a need to please and impress their friends. This can leave children open to peer pressure. Knowing your child's friends and peers helps parents improve communication, reduces conflict and teaches responsibility. Youth do not always make wise choices in picking friends. Help them see what qualities they should value in friendships. But be patient and observe and try not to react if you don't approve of your child's choices in friends — it may pass.
Finally, a big part of checking up and clear protective factor is parental supervision and monitoring. This is to ensure that your child does not spend too much unsupervised time with peers. When pre-teens/teens begin to spend more and more time away from home, monitoring their behavior
and whereabouts can be challenging. Supervision helps parents recognize developing problems, promote safety and stay involved. How do you supervise when you are not at home? Know your child's schedule. Have your child check in with you when he or she reaches home or their destination. Call your child at varying times. Sometimes make it a random visit or call. Of course, every child and family is unique and what works for one may not work for others.
For a list of additional specific tips on setting limits and teen "tricks of the trade" to watch out for, visit the BTI webpage on Boundaries.
Please share any additional tips you have found useful - or transition challenges you have faced - in the comments below.
MORE TIPS CONVERSATIONS IF YOUR CHILD IS ATTENDING A NEW SCHOOL
Listen to Your Child's Concerns. Keep asking questions about what may your child's biggest worries be, e.g., "Are you nervous about new teachers?", "Do you doubt your ability to make the [name of sports team, school play or other competitive activity]?", "Are you afraid it will be hard to make new friends?"
Validate Your Child's Feelings. Acknowledge that change can be hard, especially the
transition to high school, but don't let your child convince themselves that they is doomed to failure. Offer a balanced outlook by acknowledging the challenges of starting a new school, but also recognizing that a new school or school year may offer exciting new opportunities.
Learn About the New School Ahead of Time. Quite often, anxiety stems from not knowing what to expect. If your child can gain a clear understanding of what his new school is going to be like, they may have a more positive attitude. Conduct as much research as possible about the new school before your child starts. Most schools have websites that offer a wealth of information so make sure your child is able to navigate it. Talking to a guidance counselor or coach ahead of time can also be helpful.
Encourage a Fresh Start. Remind your child that at a new school there is a whole group of kids who do not have any preconceived notions about who they are. Therefore, if your child wants to change up their activities, style or any other facet of her being, she can do it now.
Explain that a fresh start can help your child become an even better version of themselves. And that they can create positive change for their life and surround themselves with the type of friends she wants to have now that they are entering into a new phase of their life.
Create a Plan for Making New Friends. Talk to your child about what types of extra-curricular activities they are interested in joining such as playing a sport, trying out for a school play, musical or debate team, running for student office or joining a club.
Watch Out for Academic Problems. While children need to advocate for themselves, parents should not be afraid to reach out to their student's teachers to ask how they are doing in class and what you can do to make the academic adjustment easier.
Seek Professional Help if Necessary. If your child is having a particularly tough time adjusting to a new school, don't hesitate to get help. Schools have guidance counselors for just these issues and some schools have Wellness Centers with trained therapists. If your child isn't making friends or starts struggling academically, they may be at a higher risk for substance abuse issues. So speak to your school's guidance counselor, Wellness Center therapist or your child's pediatrician to request a referral to a therapist.
Most importantly, remember, kids are resilient and it will all be okay. We hope you have a wonderful school year!