This school year is going to be downright bizarre. There is a lot of new in our new normal to adjust to — especially if, in addition to everything else, you’re also the new kid in what is suddenly a virtual classroom. Being new to the class is exciting and stressful during non-pandemic days, but how do you help your new student acclimate when their classroom doubles as the family’s dining room?
Here are some ideas on how parents can help their new student adapt and make the best of the upcoming school year.
Acknowledge their feelings
Before the first bell rings, your new student is going to have a multitude of feelings about the rapidly approaching school year. Disappointment, anxiety, excitement, apprehension — the standard feelings we’ve all felt while riding the Coronacoaster. These thoughts and feelings will be a lot to handle for your new student, so parents should be prepared to do a whole lot of listening and a whole bunch of empathizing, says Brian Galvin, chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors, an online tutoring service.
“Parents will really need to exercise specific empathy,” Galvin says. “You can’t solve every problem, but making kids feel heard will be very important.”
Listening and being empathetic will look and feel a little different depending on your child’s age. Kindergarteners will know they feel bad, but will most likely be unable to articulate why. Do your best to help them name their feelings. Most importantly, let them know those feelings are not only heard but valid.
Older children are more practiced at articulating their feelings — but that doesn’t mean they will.
“No middle schooler will say, ‘I am having trouble making friends,’” Galvin says. So check in with them regularly to better drill down to what they are truly feeling.
With your high-schooler, less talking and more listening is the rule of the thumb. Older kids aren’t looking for you to solve their problems or internal struggles, they just want to feel heard.
“The older kids just need a listening ear,” Galvin says. “High-schoolers have the right to be upset; this is when their worlds are supposed to be expanding — instead, they are shrinking.”
Make your own friends
Your student may not be the only new face on the Zoom screen this year. With a new student, often comes new parents to the virtual PTA meetings. One way to help your child become acclimated is to acclimate yourself, as well.
“Whatever you can do as a parent to get involved will be important,” Galvin says. “Parents are oftentimes more ingrained in the social scene than the students are.”
Exchange phone numbers with other parents, set up a group text, schedule some virtual meet-ups. As you get to know the other parents, things like invitations to socially distanced playdates or virtual birthday parties will come more organically, particularly for younger kids.
Ask the teacher for support
Teachers can also be an important bridge to a broader friend base. According to Sarah Deichmann, a school counselor in Indiana, connecting with a teacher right up front can help a new student both academically and socially.
“We know kids are going to learn better if they have a connection to the teacher,” Deichmann says. So to help foster that connection, Deichmann recommends requesting an introductory video from the teacher or scheduling a one-on-one Zoom chat. Every teacher really wants to help — especially when it comes to socially acclimating new students.
If you see your student is struggling to forge friendships, reach out to their teacher to discuss the possibility of assigning small group work sessions. Whereas kids may typically form their own work groups in the classroom with their buddies, the teacher will need to have a bit more say in how the smaller virtual groups form right now — and it can be an opportunity for your child to better connect with a few classmates.
Teachers will have a lot on their shoulders this year, but Deichmann encourages parents not to be afraid to ask for more or for different from their educators.
“Everyone’s trying to navigate these new and uncharted waters,” Deichmann says. “Be open to what the teacher has to offer, but you know what will work best for your particular child.”
Help them stay focused and explore new interests
Lack of attachments to their new classmates combined with another semester spent in front of the screen may make focusing a challenge for kids. To keep the focus on learning and not on YouTube, be sure to ask your kids questions about their recent sessions.
“Parents asking questions, getting kids talking, having parents being engaged shows kids these lessons are meaningful outside of their online sessions,” Galvin says.
And remind them that being the new kid in school is also a clean slate — an opportunity to start fresh. Talk to them about how they can maximise this time of isolation by exploring a new hobby or interest.
“Everyone is shut in right now and you have a student who is unsure of where they fit in the social order,” Galvin says. “Use this time to make something achievable. You are in a cocoon right now and when you emerge, you can come out any flavour of butterfly.”
Be the calm
Look, this ain’t gonna be easy. Helping your new student become socially involved and educationally stimulated while entirely virtual is not going to be a walk in the park. But do your best to stay positive not only for them, but also for yourself.
“Be the calm in the storm,” Deichmann says. “Remind them of the fun times before COVID hit, and remind them it’s a good thing to go back to learning.”