Back to class: How to talk to children about returning to school

Psychologist Melissa Brymer recommends clear and detailed communication about changes children can expect
Back to School illustration

For all the excitement about elementary schools reopening in Los Angeles County, children are facing some anxieties as well.

There are the typical first-day jitters, such as: Will I make new friends? What will my teacher be like? There are also new, pandemic-specific concerns: Will my friends recognize me with my mask on? Are we still allowed to play at recess? Is it really safe to go back to school?

The most important thing parents and caregivers can do to prepare children for the transition from Zoom school to in-person learning is to have open conversations about what to expect, said psychologist and child trauma expert Melissa Brymer.

"What we need to do is help kids think about why things are different now and what precautions schools are taking to try to keep everybody safe," said Brymer, who is the director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. "And answer their questions, because kids have heard for almost a year that we can’t go back to school because of their safety. The first question they're going to ask is, 'Is it safe to go back?'"

Brymer recommends that parents explain things clearly and in specific details, such as:

  • The classroom may look different, for instance, with desks farther apart and perhaps dividers between them.
  • The school day may be abbreviated to just a few hours rather than the typical schedule.
  • Prepare children about what to expect the weekend before school resumes, just as you might at the end of summer, only this time emphasizing "that proper dress — pants, socks and shoes — are part of the routine now."
  • Because the pandemic's trajectory remains uncertain, it's a good idea to let children know that things could still change.

Read the full story on the UCLA Health connect website.