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Adjusting to In-Person School: How to Help Your Child

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
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When the COVID-19 pandemic began, families had to adjust quickly to remote school and work. It took a while for kids and parents, and it often felt like schedules and rules kept shifting.

Now, after a year of remote and hybrid learning, we have to adjust again. Even if school might seem like familiar territory, things are different. Everyone's out of practice.

Some kids and teens will take the changes in stride. They'll be excited to get back to school and to see their friends and teachers. For others, it will be harder to adapt. They may need some time — along with support from parents and teachers.

Planning ahead can help. As school begins again, here are some issues your family might face, and tips for how to handle them.

Morning Routines

When school was remote, morning routines could be more relaxed. It takes less time to get ready when school happens at home. So everyone could wake up — and stay up — a little later.

In-person school means new morning routines. It means waking up on time. It means getting dressed, ready, and out the door.

What to try:

  • Put routines in place. A few days before school starts, shift to the bedtimes and wake-up times that will be needed. Many teens will have to wake up early. Make sure they get the sleep they need.
  • Help kids organize. Have places for all the things kids need for school. That makes it easy to grab everything and go. Let your child gather what they need and decide where to keep it. Let younger kids practice getting ready for school. Do it together. Use a timer to see how long it takes. Make it fun.

Being With Friends

At the start of any new school year, lots of kids worry about fitting in and having friends. The pandemic meant kids didn't have as many ways to interact. Social skills may be rusty. Kids may worry about whether they will feel welcomed and included.

What to try:

  • Help kids practice. Set up safe outdoor play dates with a few friends. Or play simple group games as a family. Board games or outdoor games with rules give kids a chance to practice their social skills.
  • Praise good behaviors. Give simple praise when you see your child taking turns, being a good sport, sharing, speaking up, being kind, or being friendly.

Classroom Rules

With in-person school starting again, kids may have to get used to more structure. They may need to relearn what teachers expect from students. There may be new classroom rules to follow.

At home, you can help younger kids practice listening to directions — and following them. Try doing it as a classroom role play. Give kids a turn playing the teacher.

What to try:

  • Remind kids to follow the rules. Their teachers will expect it — and so will you. Let kids know that the rules are there to keep everything fair and everyone safe.
  • Give younger kids clear directions. Keep instructions simple. Give them one at a time. Help your child practice at home before school starts up again. For example, kids can practice sitting in their seat, raising their hand, or listening.

Anxiety

Remote school may have been a relief for kids who were already dealing with social anxiety or other worries before the pandemic. Going back to in-person school means facing the social situations they fear. For example, teens might worry about speaking up in class or eating in the lunchroom. Some kids may have new worries and fears after spending so much time at home. Younger kids may worry about being away from home or apart from their family.

If you know your child has anxiety, talk about it together. Offer your support and encouragement.

What to try:

  • Help kids learn that anxiety doesn't get better when they avoid things. It's best to face fears by taking small steps forward. Teens with social anxiety may need to work with a therapist. This can help them adjust the thoughts that keep fears in place. It also helps them learn the coping skills they need to get through moments of anxiety.
  • Show you believe in your child. Support their steps forward. Help them use their courage. Celebrate each small success.

Keeping Up With Schoolwork

Some students were able to keep up with remote learning better than others. Kids with ADHD, learning issues, or those without technology may have struggled. But almost every student will worry about the new workload and about falling behind.

What to try:

  • Help lift the pressure. Too much pressure can lower a child's confidence. This makes it harder to do their best. If your child seems to be struggling, set up a meeting with the school. Ask teachers how to help kids catch up and enjoy learning again. Kids do better when they enjoy school.

Keeping Up in Sports

Without a chance to practice or compete last year, students may worry they have lost their place in a sport they want to excel at.

What to try:

  • Understand how important sports are to your child. Worry about sports performance can be harder on student athletes than parents realize. Ask your child how they feel about going back to their sport. (Many kids have no worries, but they will still appreciate your interest in their sport.) Listen to what they say. Keep checking in as the weeks pass. 
  • Encourage them. If your child is worried, help them think of ways to get back on track. Cheer them on from the sidelines. Remind them to have fun, and that with practice, their skills will come back strong.

Coping With Health Anxiety

Some kids struggle with anxiety about illness, germs, or getting sick. These worries may be more intense this year. Kids who have generalized anxiety or kids with OCD may have an extra hard time. But even kids without these conditions may have concerns.

What to try:

  • Take steps to help kids feel safe. Offer comfort. Take action to help a worried child feel safe, like supporting their wish to wear a mask at school.
  • Don't dismiss fears. Kids and teens may worry about loved ones getting sick. Let them talk, and listen as they do. Reassure them by talking about steps you and family members are taking to be sure you all stay safe. Help kids know they can come to you with worries and that you will listen.

Personal, Family, and Social Trauma

Many students will return to school still dealing with loss, grief, family hardship, or racial trauma. They may feel anxiety, depression, or traumatic grief. This can make it hard to engage with schoolwork, teachers, or peers.

What to try:

  • Let teachers and school counselors know. You don't have to give personal details. But it can help if someone at school knows that a child has been through a tough time. When teachers are aware, they can show kindness and give extra support.

As the school year starts, some kids will quickly adjust to in-person learning. Others need more time or extra help. Each child has to move forward at their own pace.

Check in with your child often. Find out what's on their mind. Make extra time to talk. Your support can help kids adjust and cope with challenges — big or small — with courage and confidence.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2021