This week, Sandy Spring Friends School prepares to welcome back some of our students to campus after an extended period in virtual mode. There’s a lot for students to be excited about: building connections with friends in person, engaging with teachers in the classroom, and exploring our beautiful campus. Yet, for many, this will feel like the first day of school all over again as we set our alarm clocks a little earlier, lay out our clothes for the next day, and prepare ourselves for a new way to return to campus. As parents and guardians consider ways to make the transition back to campus easier for their children, our SSFS counselors offer four tips to assist in the process.
Tip #1: Offer A Balanced Approach Between Supporting Independence And Offering Practical Support.
Self-advocacy is an essential skill for people of any age, so providing students with an opportunity to practice these skills is critical. However, as students return to in-person instruction, parents and guardians may need to offer even our older students practical support through gentle reminders.
“There may be times where [parents] have to step in and remind older students of the things they need to do,’” says Nicole Banks, SSFS Upper School Counselor. Reminders may include telling students what time to wake up, what items they need to bring with them to campus, or what days are virtual or in person.
One way to support self-advocacy while offering practical support is to have your child create a checklist of needed items the night before and leave the list in a visible place to reference before they head out the door.
Tip #2: Provide Consistency And Connection
Returning to campus under a pandemic means that there will be a mixture of old and new practices. Erin Rose, SSFS Middle School Counselor, recommends establishing some consistencies at home to adjust to all the changes.
“...We all thrive when we have some structure and consistency, especially when things don't feel very consistent right now,” says Erin. She suggests scheduling routine activities throughout the day, such as designating a specific time for breakfast in the morning or homework after school. By providing this level of consistency, it can help students as they work to establish new routines.
SSFS Lower School Counselor Joel Gunzburgrecommends adding family time as a regularly scheduled activity, which helps build connection and eases students’ transition away from being at home after being there for a prolonged time. “We're looking at students being home close to a year at this point, and whether things have been tough or not, this is extra time that they've been home with you,” says Joel.
Tip #3: Be Prepared For Exhausted Children
One of the exciting pieces for students returning to campus is socializing with friends and teachers in person. Building community is a critical part of school and social-emotional growth, but --whether your child is an introvert or an extrovert--this process can be exhausting. Joel suggests that parents prepare for children to come home drained.
“One thing that I don't know that students and staff will be ready for is the pace at which we'll go, especially students with movement around the campus,” says Joel. “The end of the day may be met with someone ready to just fall on a bed and go to sleep.”
Preparing for tired children means different things for different ages. Younger children may appreciate low-energy activities such as reading or coloring. It can also mean pulling back on some regular activities and checking in with your child, no matter their age.
Tip #4: Listen To The Challenges
As parents, we dislike seeing our children in emotional pain or discomfort. To help our children feel better, we can fall into the habit of trying to “fix” the problem. Sometimes, however, the best support we can offer is allowing space for our children to process their emotions alongside us by being great listeners.
“When someone feels heard about how they are feeling and what their fears are, that can go a really long way in alleviating those fears,” says Meghan Cassady, SSFS Upper School Boarding Counselor. “Just having someone listen, and [feeling] listened to can be powerful.”
Being an effective listener does not mean sitting entirely in silence. Effective listening often requires that the listener ask good questions that allow the speaker to go deeper, articulate more fully, and feel heard. Example questions that you can ask include “I hear you saying[...], Is that correct?” “Can you tell me more about that?” and “How did that make you feel?”
With a return to campus, many families are expecting their children to feel a range of emotions, some that can be anticipated, and many that cannot. Considering these four tips can be useful to make the transition back to campus easier for our students. One other step that could help? Taking some time for parents and guardians to manage their own expectations and remind themselves that they are in the process as well.
Air Date: January 13, 2021
LISTEN: After an extended time in virtual mode, SSFS is opening its campus to students for in-person learning. From dealing with an array of emotions to building new habits, hear from our counselors about how you and your student can get ready to come back to school —whether at SSFS or another community.