Subhead: How to Help Your Children Survive and Thrive.

By Cindy Chanin

It is no surprise that parents and students are anxious about the beginning of in-person school as the 2021-2022 academic year commences. While many harbor concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic such as breakthrough transmission, controversy and inconsistency about messaging around mask wearing, and personal safety at school and events, there’s also concern about whether students are academically prepared for the upcoming year. Most importantly, social and emotional readiness are in question for families and educators. Despite the uncertainty, you and your students can do plenty to get ready for this imminent milestone. Some of the advice circulating is familiar, while some is brand new.

1.Get (and Stay) Organized

Your family likely has time-honored personal systems for staying organized, including family and assignment calendars, preparing snacks and meals in advance, packing school bags the night before class, maintaining a sleep schedule, and having a consistent morning routine.

This year, it’s essential to get into your rhythm early. Here are some tips:

  • Start your school-year calendars as soon as it’s feasible—plan for the entire semester by noting events, practices, and class times on family calendars.
  • If school bedtime is earlier than summer bedtime, be clear and consistent about expectations. If school hasn’t begun for your family already, get into the bedtime rhythm now, or at least two weeks out from the first day.
  • Commuting across the room to your desk is not the same as commuting to school itself, and the length of time it actually now takes may come as a shock. Make space for this reality by allowing your students and family more time now.
  • Healthy habits take time and planning, so to avoid frantic scrambling and packing lunch, it’s recommended that you begin meal prep as a family the night before each school and workday – at least in the beginning. This will pave the way for a collaborative and nourishing routine.
  • Speaking of routines, talk to your kids about their morning routines and what they might be able to do to optimize them in advance.
  • A “balanced” docket of social, cultural, and academic engagements will help students hone-in on their rhythm and maintain their sanity. Let the calendar provide structure and stability while allowing for spontaneity. Plant the seeds and then let go and allow for some shift and flow. Know that some planning and organization can actually result in more free time!

It goes without saying, but parents need to take the same self-care steps to keep-up with the transition. Amid all the moving parts, students and parents can both be forgetful, so implementing a healthy routine (morning and after school) will help hold back the tide of uncertainty if practiced consistently. This will provide a meaningful foundation to rely upon when life and academia are in full-swing and any iteration of chaos may ensue.

2.Anticipate Inertia

Students will resist change, having grown accustomed to a “new normal.” One of the best ways you can motivate and inspire change is to shift your mindset. Exercise is just one part of the equation. Museums and parks are opening up. Regular visits to botanical gardens, science museums, and art galleries will get them engaged with life outside of their bubble. Sporting events or performances will refresh their memory of how good it feels to be part of a community. Visits with friends and family will help mitigate social anxiety. Using days with no plans to shop for school supplies and new fashions will add to the excitement. Anything you can do to get them thinking positively about the change to come will motivate them to participate.

3.Learning Loss Isn’t Inevitable

Instead of focusing on academic challenges and losses due to the pandemic, help your students identify what they have learned this year. In close proximity and isolation, certain academic and creative strengths may have become surprisingly apparent. Academically, what floated to the top? Praise and appreciate those strengths together with activity around it, such as getting ahold of an unexplored pile of good fiction, starting a new set of puzzles, building a robot, shooting and editing an end-of-summer film, initiating a photo series, or starting a music class.

Even if emerging from a haze of hardship, loss, or depression as well as a prolonged period of political and collective unrest, students and parents cannot deny the opportunity that this last year afforded many for deep personal reflection. Amidst the social movements and groundbreaking events that unfolded throughout 2020, we were immersed in a “life school” that challenged us to examine our idea of social responsibility, community engagement, and individual values. The key here is not to focus all of our attention on learning losses and missed enrichment, but instead to acknowledge the immense insights that were gained.

What forms of self-care and family care did your students participate in this year? Hang onto those achievements; you’ll want to identify them when college application season starts. College admissions pros want to know what your teens did to honor and embrace the realities of this tumultuous year. Strikingly, a focus on well-being along with service to one’s family and community are more important than grades to some admissions officers.

4.Get Help Early

Work hand-in-hand with your students to identify areas of improvement that need support. Once you’ve identified strengths, it will be easier to determine what needs work. It’s vital to identify skill loss as soon as possible, so you can make time for homework support and a slower learning pace. Whether in person or virtual, peer study groups are a great way to improve skills —and can be free of cost. Your students know who they like to study with, so coordinating with parents to set meeting times, check homework, and offer consistency will ease the pain.

You may have to reach beyond your family, peer group, and school resources. Tutors are in high demand, and securing yours before the school year begins will be paramount to getting the help you need if that is the right direction for your student. School counselors will be swamped this year, so if your child needs some emotional or social heavy lifting, you’ll want to source and sign up for independent counseling or group therapy as soon as possible. Don’t expect your in-school counselors to have time for anyone but those in greatest need.

5. Be Patient

Parents and students are not expected to hop right back into pre-pandemic life. The strangeness, isolation, and losses of this past year-and-a-half need to be acknowledged and embraced. The less you pressure your students to get motivated and excel, the more likely they are to find, believe in, and rely on their inner source of resilience and strength. Remind students, whenever you have the opportunity, that you are there for them 100% until they can handle their feelings on their own. Leave no doubt that they are cared for and heard. Assure them that they will attain self-reliance with consistent self-care practice, learning how to accept and honor their feelings, no matter how uncertain or painful they may be.

Cindy Chanin, Founder of Rainbow EDU Consulting & Tutoring, former Ivy admissions officer, nationally sought-after educational consultant, and teen entrepreneurial coach, has a passion for transforming lives through the power of personalized education and impactful mentoring and enrichment.