Many parents are asking themselves now that we’ve entered the summer and secured at least some form of distraction for our kids, “what will the next school year look like?” And… “what can I do to best prepare my child to reintegrate into the system?” This is a particularly piquant to the parents of students prone to anxiety, given the severe impact that the pandemic had on these students last year.
But regardless of your child’s level of anxiety in returning to school, one of the primary reasons that this past school year was hard on students was the lack of predictability. Due to no fault of our own, parents could not provide their kids the answer to the most fundamental questions of well-being: “What’s going to happen today?” And… “Will I be truly safe?” Unsurprisingly, nothing seems to short-circuit a teen more than this unpredictability. Certainly, we’re all creatures of habit, the young and… middle-aged alike, but for those who have only a nascent understanding of the processes of the world, having a sense of what will happen tomorrow is the only thing to hang on to. It’s easy to forget for parents to forget that sense of reeling terror at a world so chaotic and confusing at a vulnerable age when we’re barely able to contend with those feelings.
It is the threat of this abyss that our children have so directly been skirting that we must steer away from in the coming academic year. The solution is both simple and complex: provide as much predictability and routine as possible. It’s a seemingly simple concept on the surface: so we can help them cope by keeping the same schools when possible, avoiding big moves, offering the same extracurricular activities, etc. It’s simple, until we gather that life is inherently unpredictable and chaotic. Life demands evolution: parents get jobs in other areas, relatives pass away, families split up, favorite teachers quit. It’s important not to blame ourselves too much for these immutable realities. That’s not a parenting failure, not by any means, even when the stakes are up like now.
However, we can be aware of the need for consistency for our children and work to provide them as fluid an experience as possible. We can review the academic material they will encounter in the coming school year, join summer activities associated with the schools they will attend in the fall, find ways to socialize with the people that will surround our kids in the fall (we even hired one of our children’s teachers to babysit in the summer). All of these efforts to preview the fall socially, academically and practically, will make a difference in their anxieties about the coming year.
We can’t eliminate their anxieties (nor our own!). Fear is a healthy part of the needed encounters with novel experience. But we can help even that ride for our most vulnerable this summer when we have the opportunity to address it. They need these efforts now more than ever.