By Tina Jenkins Bell
BAPA School Liaison
For many parents and their children, the opening of Catholic and private schools last fall and recent the return of PreK-8 Chicago Public School students to the physical classroom was a long time coming, and not always easy. Whether your children have been in school or are just starting to return, Patricia Harthun, co-owner and therapist at Beverly Therapists, 10725 S. Western Ave., cautions parents to be observant and patient with themselves and their children.
“Give yourself permission to feel what you feel and to not be super hard on yourself or the child if an adjustment is needed,” said Harthun. “Understand this is the new normal. We will take our time as things open up and we will make it through.”
Harthun offers these tips to help parents handle the changes and challenges brought on by their children’s return to school.
Do These Things after their children return to school.
Retain time and space to observe and listen to kids.
Monitor how children feel about returning to school. For example, there may be a smaller friend pool, so monitor whether kids are being accepted and connecting with their usual friend group. Certain kids might experience exclusion or feelings of isolation.
Conduct a “two word” check–in. Ask “How was your day?” The response may be two words, like “It’s fine,” or more elaborate, like :It was so nice to see my friends.” Allow children to express themselves, even minimally, without pushing for details. Those two word answers can open doors for additional or more liberal conversations in the future. Harthun added, parents can get additional clues to their child’s state of mind by listening to their tone.
Observe children for feelings of isolation, anxiety or depression that should be addressed. Depression and anxiety can be a result of the pandemic fall-out may or signal adjustment disorders. Parents should return to the basics: make sure the child gets enough sleep, eats nutritious meals, interacts in a structured day, and has a balance of fun, chores, socially distanced events, and physical activities.
Use these ploys to open the lines of communications without being too eager.
Ask child to draw how they feel.
Use feelings charts that allow the child to choose the icon, image, or symbol that best expresses his or her emotions.
Be ready to listen when kids, particularly teenagers, are ready to talk.
Be ready for tough questions or challenges to family decisions.
Now that we are more active, kids may see some friends who are vigilant about social distancing, mask wearing, and limiting activities, and some friends who are not. Harthun suggests reminding the child that he or she can only be responsible for his or her own actions, not those of others.
Identify and address warning signs that a child is not adjusting by looking for:
Changes in grades or academic performance
Unwarranted irritability, crying, or not wanting to go to school.
Changes in eating or sleep patterns or struggles to socially engage.
Continued feelings of loss or isolation. Some kids may have missed milestones, like graduations, proms, and other goal markers. Kids going to new schools may feel isolated because they haven’t been able to form new friendships, and they may be missing kids who stay home for remote learning.
Returning to school is a sign of normalcy most families have been waiting. Harthun says, parents should have an open mind because “normal” for everyone has a whole new set of rules.
In addition to Patricia Harthun, some of the above strategies can be credited to Carolyn Strypka who works with teens and Crystal Balfour who works with young children at Beverly Therapists.