How to Prepare Your Child for the New Normal at School

Going back to school in September always brings about a mix of excitement and nervousness. And this year in particular your child’s back-to-school feelings may be amplified. So will yours.

Together, schools and families are navigating new territory by safely returning to in-class learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which means things will look and feel different for students.

“School isn’t going to be like what you remember from last year but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be wonderful; that doesn’t mean there won’t be times where you get to meaningfully connect with your teachers, and play with your friends, and be excited about what’s happening during the school day,” says Carole McMillan, Head of Personal Counselling at SMUS. “It’s going to be different, and different can be wonderful.”

With the start of the school year upon us, Carole says it’s more important than ever for parents to take steps to help children navigate their new normal. Here are her tips to help ensure your child’s transition back to school and their school year are smooth.

Plan the school routine now

It’s been nearly six months since students were at school, so old habits may be long forgotten. It’s easier for children to redevelop those habits by transitioning them into their school routine over two weeks, as opposed to overnight. Consider what time they go to bed and wake up, how much screen time they get, discussing what they want for lunches and snacks, and preparing a daily schedule that establishes when homework time will be.

Continue your family routines

Many families have been home together for months and have developed new family routines in that time, such as weekly games nights, daily walks or arts and crafts. Ask your child which family routines they want to continue once they go back to school. These routines likely provide your child with a sense of security and normalcy, and giving them choice allows them to feel heard and know that time together is still a priority.

Normalize masks and hand hygiene

Wearing a mask indoors and cleaning their hands often will become commonplace, so start those habits now if you haven’t already. Asking your child to wear a mask at home when they’re watching TV or playing video games will help get them comfortable wearing it at school. Teaching proper hand-washing techniques and checking in to make sure they are washing or sanitizing their hands regularly, too, will make it easier for them to follow best practices while at school.

Make health screening fun

Parents will be responsible for checking in with their children every morning to see how they are feeling before bringing them to school. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of COVID-19 and get your child aware of their physical health so they can spot any new symptoms if they arise. As screening will become a daily occurrence, find ways to inject a bit of fun and humour every day so it doesn’t feel monotonous. 

Model the way

With so many new habits to learn, the easiest way to get children to buy into these practices is to model the behaviour. Be mindful of doing the tasks that you expect of them so that it becomes normalized in your household. Wearing a face mask, practising good hand hygiene and talking them through your daily health screening will help them get into the habits, too.

Be compassionate

Pay extra close attention to your child’s words and body language when you ask them they how are doing and how their school day was. Set aside time to connect with them to allow them to talk openly about the challenges they face in this new normal. Their perception of the world is going to be different than yours because of their developmental age and stage, so showing empathy and compassion is important when they open up when having a bad day.

Encourage safe socialization

Humans are wired for social connections, particularly face-to-face contact. Help set up physically distant play dates or encourage your child to do so while setting parameters for safe behaviour. Parents will get to know who is in their child’s learning cohort at school, and those other students who are in your child’s bubble will also be a great group of people to connect with for in-person socialization.

Connect with the SMUS community

We are all lucky to be part of a community where there are so many caring adults who are there for our children and are happy to help in any way. Research shows us that healthy adult connections help make children resilient and helps them thrive. Faculty and staff at SMUS are participating in professional development related to trauma-informed practice to support students through the challenges of the pandemic. Encourage them to reach out to a trusting adult at SMUS – be that a teacher, houseparent, administrator or counsellor.

If parents have concerns about their child’s health and wellness, you can reach out to any one of our school’s personal counsellors.


If you or your child want to talk with one of our school’s personal counsellors, please contact Carole McMillan at 250-213-6524 or by email at [email protected].

The school has also created Back to School pages with information on our school safety plans, details on the student experience at each school, and answers to frequently asked questions about the school’s response.

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