COVID-19 caused major disruptions to daily life for children. While some may be looking forward to returning to school, many others are feeling anxious or frightened at the prospect. Helping students navigate the complicated emotions they may be feeling about returning to normalcy is uncharted territory for many teachers and school administrators. Here at Wellington Counseling Group, we asked five of our licensed counselors to talk about ways to best support the socioemotional needs of kids returning to school after COVID-19. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Create a safe space for children to discuss and process their pandemic experience
Although the reason for being out of school for so long has been universal, the pandemic experiences and losses of each child returning to the classroom will be different. Apart from the prolonged disruptions to our routines, many other things like familial deaths from COVID-19, parental unemployment, food insecurity, racial injustice, and mental health concerns to name a few, may have impacted the real-life experiences of students in profound ways.
As students and teachers adapt to being together in person again, creating a safe space for children to discuss and process their experiences will be crucial for short and long-term socioemotional adjustment. The intentional act of teachers facilitating the emotional space to hold these kinds of ongoing conversations will go far to support the fragility and difficulties of returning to in-person classes.
2. Keep in mind that it might be more challenging to keep kids engaged
Engagement and attention during the school day might look different as students return to the classroom. They may have developed personal strategies to enhance their remote learning experience throughout the past year.
For example, some children may have found comfort in laying in their bed or using fidget objects while on a screen all day. Others may have turned to video games or snacking at intervals that don’t align with the typical structure of an in-person school day.
It will, of course, be an adjustment as children reorient themselves to falling back into old – yet familiar – classroom routines and expectations that may not be as casual as home-based learning. Teacher and student collaboration about strategies to assist with the adjustment will go far to enhance student focus, motivation, and engagement in classroom instruction.
3. Create coping strategies for students who are anxious about returning to school or contracting COVID-19
Returning to in-person learning will be a big change for many students. It’s likely that some children will be feeling increased anxiety related to separation from parents/caregivers as well as new levels of social anxiety and trouble with peers. This may occur with children who have not previously exhibited such struggles but feel that their social skills are rusty, and teachers can help by creating coping strategies for anxious students.
Other students may be fearful about getting and spreading COVID-19 or one of the more aggressive variant strains. Encouraging students to write and talk about their feelings can help them better cope with those fears. Acknowledging that their fears are valid is also an important part of helping students feel heard and seen.
4. Prioritize playtime
Prioritizing “playtime" (e.g., recess, in-class free time, fun activities, etc.) will be vital and perhaps more important than ever before as your students transition back into the classroom. It’s been a difficult year for everyone and taking time to relax is important for managing mental health. Introducing practices such as mindfulness and yoga can also be extremely beneficial for students who are prone to stress.
5. Reintroduce yourself and your students
Allow the chance for introductions of teachers and students if you go back to the classroom this school year or in the middle of next school year. Many students don't know all of their classmates and/or teachers due to being solely online (especially since some students have had their cameras off for every class period). Help make your students feel more comfortable by giving them a chance to get to know one another on an in-person level.
Learn more helpful tips for kids returning to school
So, there you have it! Some tips + tricks for teachers and school administrators to ease the transition of kids returning to school after COVID-19. If you’re interested in learning more about how to best support the socioemotional needs of your students, reach out to us today at Wellington Counseling Group.
Here’s to a great year ahead!