The 'first day of school' excitement is gone. What now?

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'The first day of school' excitement is gone... What now?
'The first day of school' excitement is gone... What now?

With the start of in-person schooling delayed now, many children (and parents!) are having to deal with the change, and the disappointment. 

I'm feeling this acutely myself, as my own daughter is starting grade 1 this year, and all the 'first day of school' excitement is gone, now that we don’t know what online schooling could look like, and what her first day of school – experienced digitally and remotely -  will be like.

I have concerns about how this will affect her views of school, and how this might even affect her future academic career. Am I worried for no good reason? She seems unconcerned so far, I'm the one with the questions and apprehension. 

And then I wonder about matric students? They’re staring their final year, and they know how much last year's matric class missed out on. There is still so much uncertainty – in fact, all we can be sure of is that we have no control and the pandemic can do anything to life as we know it.

So I chatted to Kristen Strahlendorf, Educational Psychologist from the Family Tree Therapy Center, to get some advice on how to process and navigate this uncertain time.  

"The first day of schools’ excitement is gone... and the start of the new school year has somewhat changed given the event of the pandemic," she agreed. 

Redefine perceptions 

Her first bit of advice is that parents need to change and redefine their perception of what excitement is, and what it means for 2021.

"This is where we need to prepare learners and pupils of all ages, by altering their expectations of what it means to experience the first of everything," she says.

"They may miss the first face-to-face day of Grade R, Grade 8 orientation day or possibly even a matric dance - but this is ok"  she assures me. 

All feelings are valid

From excitement, disappointment or feeling victimised, your feelings are valid she says. 

If your child is asking "Why is it me and my year that was effected?", then you need to help your children understand that they need to make the most of the year, this will help build resilience towards future unplanned life changing events.

Strahlendorf also offers some well know advice: Keep calm and carry on.

Parents need to avoid over hyping or emphasising directly or indirectly these missed life events, as they heighten anxiety and stress, she says.

"The last thing parents need is to add this additional weight onto our children’s shoulders on top of the back-to-school jitters and future uncertainties. The pandemic has, in more ways than one, exposed our children to the reality of early life lessons taking away some form of childhood experiences," she explains.

Shape our children’s outlook 

Strahlendorf reminds me that as parents we need to assist our children from Grade R to Grade 12, in finding the excitement of learning even if Covid-19 is still lingering around.

"What this means is that we shape our children’s outlook in preparing them for a possible extension of home learning via virtual platforms," she says, "and that we do regular emotional and academic check-ins."

Parents should not forget about balancing virtual learning with physical exercise and social interaction.

Work and leisure are in conflict 

The greatest obstacle that the pandemic has actually created is the inability to separate the home environment from the classroom and more so, the professional office from the personal sanctuary.

Parents as well as children, can fall into this spiral, where deciphering work and leisure are in conflict.

"Parents should create a work space and a home space," Strahlendorf suggests. This allows not only parents, but their kids to separate this mentally.

Blurred future planning 

Covid-19 has also heightened mental fatigue through one’s inability to not know how to balance work, play and study environments, she says. The virus is unique, as it has blurred future planning in all senses.

Grade 12’s may feel overwhelmed with what the future holds and how this will impact their last schooling year.

"Parents need to establish routine," she suggests, "while preparing them for what moving towards remote learning will look like, so that Covid-19 distractions do not get in the way the current academic year."

Also prepare for the worst, make sure you are virtual-ready, as the countries situation could change at a whim.

This will allow you and your child to transition smoothly to changes in the schooling environment and to talk about it.

"The parents of class of 2021 will need to build their child’s resilience while assisting their children in adjusting," Strahlendorf tells me.

This is done through continuous and open communication, where parents speak to their child on an age-appropriate level.

Other ways for parents to remain on top of things is to pre-empting changes through being in constant communication with your child’s teachers and school around expectations of academic performance, homework, class attendance and projects.

Carpark talk creates 'covert anxiety'

She explains that parents don’t realise that 'Carpark talk'– that is casual chats with other parents when dropping children off at school - when overheard by their kids can create 'covert anxiety'.

Parents should not only speak to the negatives of the pandemic, she says, as children often emulate what their parents say and feel. 

"Try keep adult talk for adults while promoting positive reaffirmations and behaviour as parents. Motivation will be a bugbear of the pandemic, what I term "lazy days". As parents we need to establish a clear routine, motivate our children and provide them with the resources and time needed in promoting this academic year," she says.

Additional tutoring, supplementing material with YouTube videos for interactive content and setting time aside for emotional check-ins, are all mechanisms to engage and monitoring your child’s coping pace.

Tough decisions 

Parents need to know that tough decisions need to be made, and that its ok to try new ways of teaching your child, make sanitising fun and an everyday thing, while creating virtual or socially distant fun ways of letting your child interact with their teachers, fellow pupils, family and friends.

As we move forward into 2021, Covid-19 still anchors us psychologically to the 'missed' 2020 year, Strahlendorf says.

"Parents are not immune, and are still subconsciously processing what happened to 2020 while recalling how work became virtual, financial squeezes creeped in and the socialising tap restricted," she describes.

"Positive children need positive parents. As a parent, speaking to a friend, family member or psychologist can all help alleviate the 'covert anxiety' build-up that creeps in. We all need someone to lean on during these strange times we are living in," she advises. 

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