4 Steps to Ease Your Family’s Transition Back to School or Childcare During COVID-19

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Even if your kid will be returning to a beloved center, it’s going to feel like a big change–for you all.

A family nurse practitioner offers ways to prep your child–and yourself–for going from spending all your time together to a lot less.

Nearly 4 million people came off of unemployment benefits in early July, as many businesses activated their reopening plans for newly adjusted operations amidst the “new normal.” Simultaneously, many working parents across the US are facing the added stress and overwhelm of transitioning their children back to non-parental care–from daycare facilities and nannying, to summer camps and the potential reentry into school classrooms this fall.

To help working families better cope and prepare, below are some expert tips and insights for a more-seamless and anxiety-free transition for all.

Expect and accept behavioral changes from your children.

Before you gear up for the big transition, reset your own expectations of your children, and accept the fact that you will see changes in their behavior attributed to these trying times.

Expect changes in their sleeping patterns, more exasperated whining and frustration over unrelated things, power struggles that weren’t a problem before, separation anxiety and more.

If you’re struggling at home, try these easy-to-implement practical ideas and actionable steps for helping your children with anxiety and understanding what their new “normal” entails.

Execute a consistent routine for comfort.

Predictability and structure are key for your child’s security. Establish a consistent routine prior to the transition as soon as possible, if you haven’t already. This doesn’t have to be an additional stressor; you can keep it simple.

What does a simple routine look like?

  • Wake up within the same hour each day.
  • Get dressed, brush teeth, eat breakfast and offer a rundown of the agenda for the day.
  • Eat meals at the same time each day if possible.
  • Implement a daily bedtime routine each night at the same time, and do “all the things” (bath, brush teeth and book, for instance) in a set order.

Offer a fun visual schedule, such as the Melissa and Doug calendar, or you can make one yourself that shows the date, weather and where your children will be spending their time each day.

Checklists for “chores” that inspire independence work very well too. The list could include getting oneself dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and putting on shoes. This helps them adjust to routine and lessen the potential separation anxiety.

Practice a “drip” plan of separation periods.

Once you’ve nailed down your daily routine, implement a “drip” of time scheduled apart to ease your children slowly back into separation without major anxiety. You’ve been together more than ever before, most likely. That’s why practice is crucial before going full throttle or even part-time, because it demonstrates that they can enjoy themselves while you’re gone, and that you always come back as promised.

Small increments of time, say, less than an hour to start, can be highly effective. For example, if you are transitioning back to daycare or school, wake up, follow your routine, and at the typical time you’ll be leaving for work, go to the grocery store or run a quick errand without your child. This helps you all practice saying goodbye around the time you will do so for the day, following your standard morning routine.

Another best practice is to have pretend play during the day with your child. Wake up, cue your morning routine and make believe that they are heading to their place of care, using a pretend scene in your home with dolls and/or stuffed animals. This helps create familiarity for your child and spins separation into a fun game.

Books that our Boston NAPS early education teacher recommends that focus on transitions and saying goodbye are Llama Llama Misses Mama, Owl Babies, Ruby Finds a Worry and Bye Bye Time.

Ensure that you’re confident in your chosen care.

Don’t forget that you are a smart individual who is making an important life choice that is the very best for you and your family. You’ve carefully thought through all of your options, you’ve weighed the pros and cons, and you are making a well-informed decision–so regardless of what other people do or say, you are doing the right thing.

As parents, it’s easy to get cloaked in shame and guilt, so cut yourself some slack and do your homework so you feel as confident as possible for this transition. Even if your child has been to the same facility, in the case of school or daycare, it has most likely been months since they have been onsite, so consider that this might feel like a brand new transition. Things are going to inevitably appear different–for instance, teachers/children over 2 might be in masks, and toys and stations will be socially distanced.

Ask all of the questions without hesitation. Act as if you are back on the hunt for a daycare, school or nanny for the first time. Everyone is in this together, navigating through the “new normal”–caregivers and teachers alike–and they appreciate the inquiries to help clear the air.

As the pandemic circumstances are changing in real time, recognize that it’s OK to request a download of new and adjusted policies, the day-to-day routine for your child that’s been reestablished, and for any additional insights that can help you manage expectations for your children in advance.

Once again, remember that you have made these decisions for your children’s new care because it’s best for you and your family. You have evaluated the risks, you’re confident in this new normal setup that you’ve researched to the fullest extent, and you believe the benefits outweigh the negatives.

For those of you who haven’t read Emily Oster’s article on this topic, I highly recommend it for those parents and caretakers who are aiming to mentally prepare themselves and their families for the changes ahead.

Emily is Co-Founder of Boston NAPS, the highly qualified, leading provider of prenatal education and postnatal support services across New England. As a family nurse practitioner, Emily previously worked in many different inpatient and outpatient settings before deciding to run her co-founded venture full time. For a little over 10 years, Emily worked as a registered nurse, on a medical floor and then on labor and delivery, followed by practicing as an NP at a private ob-gyn practice. She now dedicates her time to delivering education for Boston NAPS families during their pregnancies, as well as providing in-home and remote breastfeeding visits for both new and experienced moms. Emily loves visiting moms during their first few days home from the hospital, and running Mom’s Survival Guide support groups for Boston NAPS. Emily’s passion lies in education, and she was a former clinical instructor for Boston College for about five years, and now guest lectures once a semester for the university’s Connell School of Nursing’s maternity students.


Even if your kid will be returning to a beloved center, it’s going to feel like a big change–for you all.

A family nurse practitioner offers ways to prep your child–and yourself–for going from spending all your time together to a lot less.

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