As children returned to school this year, there was anticipation for a rocky readjustment with students feeling anxious, frustrated by their schoolwork, or disoriented by old, yet now unfamiliar routines.
The American Psychological Association highlights that the social, emotional, and mental health of children continues to deteriorate, as a result of major changes to academic, social and family routines, throughout the pandemic.
What this means is, children (and educators) will likely need a prolonged adjustment period to settle back into the new normal together. Here are a few recommendations to make the adjustment period a bit less bumpy:
Check In and Plan to Adjust
If a student is showing behavioral issues at school, the first thing a teacher should do is validate the child’s feelings. Sitting down with that student and talking to them about their concerns can help normalize the situation for the child especially since nothing has been “normal” for a long time. Helping that student set a plan in place for readjusting to the classroom setting can help them feel more in control of their situation and take ownership over some of their behaviors. If the behavior change seems to be more of a reflection of a mental health challenge versus adjusting to the structure of the classroom, then involve the school counselor as soon as possible.
Opening a conversation with all students about what their experiences were like learning at home and the differences between home and school gives kids the opportunity to put into words the challenges they face and provides educators with greater insight into their students’ reality. Together, kids and educators can collaborate on “new” norms and expectations, and brainstorm ways to support each other as everyone works to adapt.
Keep Expectations Flexible
If a child seems like they have regressed a few grade levels, either academically or socially, know that you are not alone! With the disruption of school, playdates with friends, and other cherished routines, regressive behaviors have become increasingly common. This doesn’t mean you should take away the rules or expectations, just approach the situation from a place of compassion and support. Ask your child about how they are doing and help them process their experiences from the past year first and continue the conversation regularly. Talking more openly about adapting and changing and even struggling helps children understand that it’s okay to feel this way and it’s okay to seek help.
Take Care of Yourself
If you, as an educator, feel exhausted and burnt out, ask yourself what kind of self-care is realistic for you now, not six months ago? Defining what this looks like for you and scheduling it into your day is key to hit the refresh button. Also, strive to stay connected. Get-togethers can help you recharge and reconnect with those you love, so be sure that you make time for communicating with the people who make you the happiest. The point is, you have to focus on taking care of yourself, so you have the energy and compassion to continue taking care of the children in your classroom. Make it a priority!