RICHMOND, Va. -- It's no question children have been thrown a number of curve balls throughout the pandemic. From virtual school, to mask-wearing, to being separated from their friends, it's been challenging for some. That's why mental health experts say there are steps parents can take now to get them ready for the school year.
Yoga in the dining room was a casual school day for Theresa Kennedy's rising second grader, Oliver, who spent more than a year learning virtually. Now he and his brother, Lawson, are gearing up to return to the classroom for the first time in eighteen months.
"They're not used to being around people all day aside from us," said Kennedy. "Having to be put in situations where they're not comfortable or don't know everyone is not something that they've had to do. Those are skills they need to learn and continue to build."
Kennedy said the impact virtual school has had on her children is undeniable.
"My kids want to be home more, and I am worried about the friendships that have not been sustained," Kennedy explained.
Kennedy said she's having conversations with her kids letting them know that this upcoming school year will be hard.
Psychologist Dr. Matt Bitsko, founder and director of Summit Emotional Health, encourages other parents to do the same. He said they should set expectations with children that the school year might come with some twists and turns like masking, social distancing, or new policies.
"The first step of resilience is recognizing whatever we're about to do is going to be hard," said Bitsko. He said parents can open the conversation by being straight forward, saying things like: "This is going to be difficult, and it's probably going to change. And that scares me, that worries me."
After many students spent much of the last academic year studying virtually, he said expect to notice heightened nerves or anxiety.
"Of course, we're going to see some weakening of social skills which means a lack of confidence in them," Dr. Bitsko explained.
He said pinpointing those concerns before kids head back to the classroom is key.
Parents can look for signs like:
- isolation or desire to disconnect
- avoidance of school
"Trying to talk to your child is very, very important," Bitsko said, "One of the biggest things that we're concerned about is if children just don't really feel the comfort or get in the bad pattern of not really sharing what their fears are, that's when the anxiety can grow."
That's why Kennedy keeps the communication flowing with her family.
"They're prepared to go back to school. We've told them when it's going to happen, and they know what's going to happen," Kennedy said.
She said the most important thing she's instilling in them before they hit the halls is this:
"Giving one another love and grace and compassion and allowing one another to make mistakes."