Back in action

Parents need to establish a routine as students prepare to return to class. Here’s how


First day of school jitters may be magnified for many students this fall, and justifiably so — many students haven’t been in a classroom since either March 2020 or early spring 2021. For Ann Michelle McNulty, getting students back to a routine is important.

“It will help them feel safe,” says McNulty, mental health leader at Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) Learning Support Services. “Talk to your children about getting back to normal, but remind them that it is a new normal and help them create good habits that work.”

Before school begins, recreate that routine, but make sure there is time to relax and have fun. McNulty suggests parents have a nightly routine of talking about how they feel. “Parents are the role models here,” she says, “and you can help to motivate your children to establish good time management skills and to not just do everything last minute. That will create stress.” Many students haven’t been in a regular classroom for a while, with all the regular routines. So, get them to reengage with healthy eating, healthy hours and getting a good night’s sleep.” If necessary, refresh them on proper handwashing techniques and on keeping a distance.

Every child is different. “There are some students who are going to be excited about getting back to a classroom routine, and others who enjoyed the solitude,” says McNulty. Whether they will be seeing other kids onscreen or in-person, get your child used to seeing other children now, by getting your children to re-build relationships with their friends this summer before they head back to the classroom.

Gareth Reid agrees about children needing to enjoy the summer. “Children need to socialize in person once again,” says Reid, director of Turnbull School, “so get out and do healthy things like playing basketball in the park or going on a hike.” But he also says, that as much as screen time was a saving grace for many students, now is the time to scale back and get outdoors. “I get it,” says Reid, “computers, iPads and cell phones were incredibly useful, but it is time to start limiting their use again and enjoy safe outdoor social activities with family, friends and neighbours.” As Reid points out, parents can help their children to feel more comfortable and excited about the upcoming school year by positively discussing it from time to time over the summer. “Reassure your children that the new school year ahead looks to be a better one,” he says. “And getting back into normal school routines and habits will naturally come back to us. I know parents worry about motivation and the class time that was lost, but most students will likely make up any academic gaps over the coming year.”   

Dr. Cristina Atance, director of the Childhood Cognition and Learning Laboratory and Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa, suggests that this is not the time to worry about performance goals. “I know parents will want their child to be motivated but there are going to be so many adjustments for children going back to class,” she says. “I’d focus more on learning goals, as I’m sure most teachers will be doing as well. But be gentle about getting back to that routine or habits — this hasn’t been a normal year.”

“It’s really important to praise children’s effort (in the school context and elsewhere) and not necessarily the outcome,” says Atance. “I think instilling perseverance and having motivation come from within is important.” Atance understands that there will be children struggling when they get back to class but having the benefit of social interaction is crucial. “Peer interaction is so important,” says Atance, “and that can be motivating for children as well — especially teens who have been really affected [by the past year].” As Atance says, there are a lot of adjustments to be made going back, but children are resilient and adaptable. Just be patient.