Welcome Back to (In-Person) Schooling

The long-awaited Aug 28th 2021 is here and students are going back to school after a long summer vacation. Until the time of writing this article, only vaccinated students grade 7-12 are allowed to go back to in-person learning. Elementary students continue to receive their education virtually in hopes that they will be able to receive in-person education in 3 months.

A quick background: The Saudi educational system is divided into three: grades 1-6 is elementary, grades 7-9 is Middle School, and grades 10-12 is High School. For the past year and a half, education was done online. In addition to covid safety measures, there is a change to the schooling system. Rather than the usual 2 semester school year, there are now 3 semesters per school year, each semester is 3 months long.

Currently, a lot of mixed emotions are floating in the air especially in light of COVID 19 still going on. Many caregivers are excited their kids are finally going to school but at the same time are worried and anxious. Will their kids be safe? Teachers are anxious too and wonder how they will raise to the occasion. Add to that, fear for their own children’s well-being. Students are nervous and excited about going back to school and socializing with other students especially with all the precautionary measures in place. Many other students are disappointed that they would have to wait a little longer before going back to school.

A readjustment period for all is to be expected.

Whether you are a teacher, caregiver or student, here are a few tips that could help ease this challenging time: Those who have been following my column for a while know that I live for 1-3.

  • Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions. Afterall, we can’t deal with something to refuse to acknowledge its existence. “At this time being, I am feeling …………” or, “Right now, my thoughts are telling me ……”.
  • Accept that you are having these thoughts and feelings. “Acceptance” has received a negative reputation for being connotated with being ok with a thought or with agreeing to a certain behavior. On the contrary, acceptance is about choosing to work on the unwanted instead of focusing on fighting, discrediting or overanalyzing them. We can choose to focus on working with our feelings and emotions or we can choose to focus on fighting them. We can’t do both.
  • Practice Kindness to self and others. You have enough stress. No need to add more anxiety to it by having unrealistic expectations. Rather than add salt to the wound, give the wound the care and comfort it needs. Same goes for how we treat others especially teachers who not only are navigating through their roles as teachers during an epidemic but many are also caregivers like you. Let’s work towards making kindness our initial response.
  • If possible, join a support group. There is always a caregiver, teacher or student who is experiencing similar experiences. Can’t find a support team? Create one.
  • Allow students to be part of the solution. Talk to them about your own struggles and give them room to express what is on their mind. Adults don’t have all the answers but a little love and support can go a long way. By being involved in finding a solution, kids will be keener to follow agreed upon agreements.
  • Caregivers and students, establish an appropriate routine: sleep routine, morning routine…etc. It has been a while since students had to wake up early and get ready for school. Agree on the routine and have it written down. This will ease and smooth the transition period to in-person schooling and help all be better equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.
  • Decide on your priorities early on and use it to guide you through difficult situations, say early morning tantrums or homework related fights. Mental well-being is the number priority, whether we are talking caregivers, teachers or students. Chances are tantrums whether by children or adults is covering up fear or anxiety. Sometimes, it’s ok to be late for school in exchange for giving your child some T.L.C. or to address unwanted thoughts and emotions.
  • Make room for kids to share what is on their mind. They might be afraid of getting sick or perhaps nervous about meeting new teachers and students. Discuss with them safety measures at school and ways that may calm your nerves. Other kids may had been looking forward to going back to school and are left disappoint.
  • Remember to BREATHE. Let’s take it step at a time and one day at a time. When feeling overwhelmed, just take a few moments and focus on your breathing. This also helps us be more grounded and centered.
  • Introduce daily transition to study: One of the reasons kids have a hard time concentrating is that they shift from play to study without a transition in between. This sudden shift in activity causes the child to continue being in the previous mode while attempting to do a different activity that needs an entirely different mode. This makes it more difficult for the child to sit still and listen to the teacher. To avoid this, a transition is introduced to allow the brain to shift gears into the proper mode. This transition can take the form of sitting in quite for a few moments and setting an intention for how the child wants to be during class. Adults need to work with children on this transition rather than force one on them. Speaking of adults, this tip works great for us as well regardless of the task at hand.
  • Uplifting Group Activities. This can be a great opportunity for caregivers and children to work together to adopt healthy activities particularly if done on a regular bases such as daily gratitude and mindfulness practices These activities take a few minutes of our times but research has shown to have a lot of benefits especially when feeling down or sad. Some of the benefits are: It uplift us and shifts our brain to see the positive instead of the obstacles. When done in a group, it can bring us closer together. It can also increase ourself esteem and lower stress levels.

2020 and 2021 have surely been interesting and challenging years and here we are facing a new aspect of the challenge. As difficult as it might be, it does mean this has to be a bad challenge but It’s an opportunity for growth and for making memories.

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey.”
Roy T. Bennett,

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