As a parent or caregiver, this is a pretty stressful time of life. Every year, with the thought of back to school prep, you’re probably a bit overwhelmed. But this is a different kind of year. It’s back to school in a pandemic.

With emails and talk about what the fall plan is for your school district, (not to mention all the alternate plans as well) you may be wondering how your family will survive. And how is it possible to prepare?

The truth is, no plan, no matter how good, will cover every family’s needs or concerns, every possibility or scenario. But one thing’s for sure, emotional preparation for the uncertainty of the known and unknown of the school season will be essential for survival and reduction of meltdowns for kids.

What exactly is emotional preparation? Simply put, it’s getting ready for the feeling(s), mood(s), or state of mind about the impending circumstances.

So today, I’m going to share 5 ways to prepare your kids emotionally for back to school this year. And, bonus, it will help reduce meltdowns in a pandemic too!


1.  Talk about the plan


Be specific about what you know and anticipate for the school year, including start dates, new routines, face mask wearing, eating at school, clubs, and sports. Kids thrive where there’s a predictable schedule. Name how there will be different things as well as the same/similar things from years past.

It might be helpful to get out post-it notes and, with your kiddos, write down all the new routines that will happen for the start of the school year. Then plan out how these new routines will take place.


2.  Talk about why there may be changes to the plan


Share how COVID-19 is something that will not go away, but there are many people working to find new medicines to help prevent and control the spread.  Share that you know that the virus could accidentally be brought to school and if that happens school might have to be at home again for a few weeks.  But also share that the adults are working hard to work to make school safe and that most people who get the virus get better.

Number 3 and 4 go hand in hand.


3.  Talk about possible feelings when plans change


Educate your child on feeling words and then label together feelings that come or may come when there is a change of plans.  Talk about where it starts in the body and ways those feelings can present themselves.  Like when Joey’s angry that he can’t see his friends at school for 2 weeks because the plan changed, he may feel like kicking his toys. 

But also help your child think of alternative ways to let out the anger.


4.  Work on alternative outlets for possible feelings


Allow your child to share their go-to response for feelings but then work together to create a list of alternate ways to deal with the same feelings in different healthy and positive ways.  Try finding alternatives that use the same body part for the best success! 

Here’s an example of a possible list for the feeling Anger:

Typical ways:

  • Yell
  • Kick Toys
  • Say mean things to mom
  • Roll My Eyes
  • Silent Treatment

 Alternate Ways:

  • Sing a loud song or made-up song that expresses my anger
  • Kick a punching Bag
  • Jump and count to 50 on a trampoline with mom
  • Scrunch your face and release it 5 times
  • Take deep breaths and use a calming jar


5.  Talk about what won’t change despite plan’s changing


For kids, it’s important to provide stability when possible so remembering what doesn’t change can be helpful for stress reduction. Think about family values and traditions.  Look back at family pictures for reminders. Then, share with your child about the things that don’t change in life, like that you will always be your kid’s mom or dad no matter what. Or, that there will always be seasons with holidays and break times. Get creative!

Emotional preparation is key to surviving the upcoming school year. It is important to allow feelings to show up and be validated for what they are. It’s hard work, but it will ease home stress in the long run. I promise!

Resource yourself with all the support that you can! If you need ideas on how to find more support as a parent, please reach out. The counselors at Kid Matters Counseling are available to help both kiddos and parents online or in person.  Don’t parent alone!

Susan Stutzman

Susan Stutzman

Owner | Child Therapist | LCPC, RPT

Parenting is hard! But you don’t have to do it alone. I work with children and parents to resolve emotional conflict, cultivate healing, and nurture hope.

We help anxious kids and frustrated parents. We serve Hinsdale & the Western Suburbs of Chicago.

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