Debbie Conley’s 12-year-old daughter, Raya, embraces Tillie, a purebred collie that’s in training to be a therapy dog. Photo courtesy of Anne Linder.
Debbie Conley’s 12-year-old daughter, Raya, embraces Tillie, a purebred collie that’s in training to be a therapy dog. Photo courtesy of Anne Linder.

For both parents and students, starting a new school year inevitably brings a lot of feelings: excitement, anticipation and sometimes a little anxiety. And this year, whether you’re getting an education from home, school or a mix of both, going back to school feels decidedly different.

But even so, there are ways to get your kids back in a school mindset. Here are some recommendations from Debbie Conley, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and therapist based in Geneva, and Kristy Gonyon, Licensed Professional Counselor and Dance/Movement Therapist at Intermission Therapies in Geneva.

Talking about the school year in advance

Kids aren’t huge fans of unwanted surprises. With this in mind and considering your child’s personality and developmental stage, both Conley and Gonyon recommend picking a time to discuss expectations for the upcoming school year. Gonyon recommends talking about what will be the same, what will be different and emphasizing that “as a family we’re working together to find a way to put our best foot forward.”

“It’s okay to say as a parent, ‘I don’t know all the answers, but we’re always going to keep you informed,’” Conley says.

Starting your back-to-school routine early

Going to bed earlier, establishing a morning routine and gradually reducing screen time — things you might do before any school year — are all ways you can start to transition out of summer mode. Conley recommends reviewing skills like whole body listening and giving respect to your teachers.

If your child’s school district is using a hybrid model, consider creating a visual calendar —physical and at the child’s level if they’re younger, digitally and on the phone if they’re older — to see what’s happening on which day. “If we’re throwing a hybrid school year into it on top of the craziness already going on, it’s going to be super, super important that they have something visual,” says Conley.

Adding a learning element to something your kids already enjoy — for example, researching recipes and cooking something together — is another way to get kids re-engaged and ready for learning. As libraries start to open up, using those resources can be very helpful, Gonyon adds.

Remembering we’re all in this together

Validate your kids’ worries, but don’t project your own, both women say. Kids pick up on emotional cues and absorb negative talk, Conley says, so being flexible and remembering there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution will help everyone’s adjustment.

“Being anxious and nervous as a parent is a very real experience, but we don’t (want to) add that extra worry on to the kids because they’re already worried,” Gonyon says. She recommends voicing stressors to other parents or getting involved with parent forums on Facebook or within your school district.

If kids are nervous about the school year, reinforce that any new procedures are for safety, Gonyon says. You can expect some normal disruption in sleep and eating habits or overall mood, but if things seem too overwhelming, then consider adding support from a mental health professional, she says.

“Know we’re all doing this together,” says Conley.