5 ways to assess children’s adjustment to being back in school

The school year is an interesting time for parents and children. It is a time where kids enter a world where parents don’t have a full view. They are interacting with peers, and navigating group dynamics. It is also when children start to see themselves in relation to others, and begin to become independent and make decisions on their own.

As parents, this can be exciting, and scary. The unknowns around how children are managing conflict, interacting with peers, knowing if they’re happy or anxious at times can be challenging. There is a delicate balance between respecting their need for autonomy and independence, while also providing help and support.

Here are 5 ways parents can encourage their children to share how it feels to be back in school this year:

1. What’s your classroom like this year? Is it what you expected? For many children, it had been a long time since they were in the classroom. It’s also very likely that the classroom setting they are in this year doesn’t feel the same as classrooms in the past. Asking children to verbally paint the picture of what they were expecting helps to reveal the things they weren’t expecting. This allows parents to begin navigating that territory of talking through those differences, and finding ways to help children adjust to the things that might be a bit more difficult this year.
2. What a change to be back in school all day. For a child who had part or most of last school year online, transitioning back into the classroom was probably a huge adjustment. Even the little things like waiting in line, asking to use the bathroom, and taking movement or recess breaks at set times might feel pretty difficult or frustrating. These are also tasks that, aside from requiring social awareness, also require a good deal of physical and behavioral regulation. Parents can help their children adjust to some of these things by talking through different scenarios and learning about how it feels to be in the school building so far. If they’re struggling with this, developing plans ahead of time helps children feel grounded and more in control.
3. I can’t imagine what it must be like to see old classmates and teachers again in person after so long. Depending on what school looked like last year, it might have been a very long time since your child had been face to face with peers. This can be really exciting for some kids, while also daunting and overwhelming for others. Parents can help children navigate those social dynamics and interactions by helping to identify peers and teachers who currently feel comfortable and safe. Especially for children who struggle with anxiety, knowing that there are friendly faces in the building can be a huge comfort.
4. I bet this year will have different sorts of challenges than last year. Do you think anything will feel hard or tricky this year? This is a direct question that attempts to get right to the heart of any worries. Oftentimes, children who feel things deeply can get overwhelmed and burdened with those feelings. It becomes difficult to fully put the feelings or worries into words. This sort of question can hopefully open the door for your child to begin expressing any and all of their feelings about being back in school so far. The answer might also be just what you expect, or could totally surprise you.
5. What are you looking forward to most this year? Prompting children to identify the positive aspects of school is a great way to help them focus on the things that are important, fun, and exciting for them. Especially for children who might struggle with anxiety, this is a way to redirect their thoughts and encourage them to begin identifying things that feel comfortable for them. It’s also an opportunity to identify their strengths, and provide encouragement and support to help them reach their goals.

Note from Mightier Clinicians

Our emotions are not our children’s. We all have expectations, and probably some assumptions, around how we anticipate our children feel. Paying attention to this can be really important. The key is to avoid assumptions and to practice empathy – the art of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing a situation from their perspective. A helpful formula for empathic listening, “First, ask someone how they’re doing. Second, listen to their answers. Third, avoid judgement or correction. That’s how you really hear what someone is saying.

Learn more about how Mightier helps kids manage their emotions. >>