TAMPA, Fla. — We are about a week away from the first day of school in the Tampa Bay area.
Experts suggest you start getting your kids in a routine prior to the first day of school.
ABC Action News spoke with child psychologist Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein about getting ready. Dr. Katzenstein is the director of psychology and neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.
"Especially returning back to school this year, it's really prepping on a number of different levels, one in terms of COVID, and the pandemic, really planning for the uncertainty that will follow with that. The uncertainty of what school will look like, what may or may not happen with masking and returning to school in person," explained Dr. Katzenstein. "And so making sure our kids are prepared, that we are doing the best that we can to inform them about the uncertainty about what may or may not happen."
But also, preparing your kids for a good night of sleep and good eating habits.
"So getting back on a good sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time every night, even weekends, waking up at the same time every day. Over the summer, many of us may have let those bedtime routines go a bit, including myself," Dr. Katzenstein said. "So getting back to that regular bedtime, getting back to that before the first night of school. So starting at least a week or two in advance, getting our healthy meals in, getting in some exercise each da."
"Number one is, if possible, making sure that that routine is posted or clearly articulated so that everyone knows what that routine looks like. And to the extent we can, keeping those expectations really clear. And then the other piece I love to see parents do is having a check-in time every day with their kids. Checking in just to see how they're feeling asking that open, open-ended question, putting our devices down and spending some time together just to check-in and see how they're doing."
For some kids, they haven't been in a classroom in a year because of virtual school. Or maybe they're going into kindergarten for the first time.
"So one of the major recommendations I have, to the extent possible, getting in and seeing the classroom, meeting our teacher in advance of the school year, start seeing where the school is, what the layout looks like, very small things, even where the bathroom is, I have a number of my patients who are going into middle school for the first time after having been at home for school for the past year. And that comes with new organizational demands, balancing a locker and changing classes," explained Dr. Katzenstein. "And so before school starts, every opportunity that we can take to be in the school, find out where that locker is get used to doing the combination on that locker, get used to where classes are and how much time there really is to manage between classes, to figure out when kids can do things like change out their books and use the restroom.
"With that said, again, setting up that expectation such that we're going back to school, we're going to be having more social interactions with other kids and as parents whenever possible, setting up play dates or social events in advance so that our kids can get used to being back in those social scenarios. And then again, checking in how did that go? Are you feeling anxiety about being back in the classroom? The demands of our thinking and our problem solving and our attention span can be even more when we're back in person. And so checking in to see if we're a little more fatigued at the end of the day or kids are a little bit more irritable, which they might be after going back to school, adjusting our sleep schedules accordingly."
We did ask Dr. Katzenstein if she has any more concerns this year compared to years past when it comes to bullying.
"So one is the interesting pieces, we actually worry more about the cyberbullying, and the virtual bullying as opposed to in person, I have concerns about kids and many kids are resilient, I also want to reinforce that too," says Dr. Katzenstein. "For the most part, our kids are so resilient, that once they get back into in person just like us as adults, like, Oh, I have to wash my face a little bit more, right? Getting back to the social interactions, and I suspect for kids that will be very easy to jump right back into, except for our subgroup of kids who have social anxiety. And potentially this past year for them was a way to reduce their anxiety by not having to be in person and not being in situations that would exacerbate or increase that anxiety."
"And so really watching our kids who had prior anxiety, prior social anxiety, prior mood or depression concerns as they return to in-person, are they avoiding school? Are they more irritable? Are they avoiding previously enjoyed activities, or previously enjoyed friends? And if you're starting to see an impact on their mood and their overall daily functioning, then it's definitely time to seek out the support of a therapist, a psychologist, their pediatrician or a trusted person."
Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital offers free online family cooking classes for children ages seven and up. Click here to learn more or register for a class.