Back To In-Person School | Back To School Advice |

As summer came to a close, we found ourselves packing up our picnics and picking up our pencils! School is officially back in session, and we are all slowly getting back into the swing of things. Fortunately, many of us had the opportunity to get our feet wet at the close of the last school year by moving back to in-person learning for a short period of time. However, some families opted for their students to continue with virtual learning, and those students have not yet been back in a face-to-face school environment. Additionally, things last year did not exactly return to what we considered “normal” prior to the pandemic.

I spoke with a longtime friend who has a son entering his freshman year of high school and a daughter moving to the big leagues — fifth grade at Fairacres Elementary School. Obed Torres stated, “I am excited to have some things returning to normal. My kids being able to see their friends again, being able to attend special events like graduations, award ceremonies, and school performances is important to me.” His daughter Ania shared the same sentiment of being thrilled to be around her friends again and able to spend quality time together. On the flip side, Obed did express concern that “as a parent, I want to protect my kids from everything and I am nervous that they may risk becoming sick. I would encourage parents to keep kids at home if they are sick to protect everyone.”

As a school psychologist, a vital element of my work is to partner with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals such as social workers to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments and strengthen connections between home, school, and the community. It truly takes a collaborative effort to effectively support our students.

I consulted Licensed Clinical Social Worker Giovanna Musitano, my colleague at East Picacho Elementary School (Go Knights!), who stated, “The most important thing a parent can do is remain calm with their student as they navigate going back to school, as it can be stressful to transition from at-home learning to in-person instruction.” So, you may ask, what can I do to prepare my children for their successful return to the physical classroom?

Open Communication

It is critical to have consistent “check-ins” with your children to gauge how they are feeling. I have learned that students truly appreciate someone’s undivided attention, and simply by asking you may get an earful! Setting aside a designated time for even just a few minutes a day shows children you care and provides a safe space for open discussion. In a similar fashion, communicating with your child’s school via the staff, online resources such as the school’s website, and social media platforms will help you stay connected and aware of the happenings at your child’s school.

Establish a Routine

A solid family routine fosters the setting of proper expectations for the way things are done, as well as a sense of security for kids and adults alike. A daily schedule may include the time to get up each morning, mealtime, cleaning time, bath time, play time, homework time, and so forth. Routine helps set our internal “body clocks,” and helps kids prepare for what comes next. Although I feel routine is one of the most critical factors to a child’s success, it is also important to remain flexible when appropriate and remember the balance in life. When something exciting is happening, like music in the park or a new movie premiere, it is OK to bend the structure a bit! In fact, this helps model prioritization and reminds kids of the values your family holds, such as spending quality time together.

Teaching and Implementing Healthy Habits

Teaching and helping kids to implement healthy habits around sleeping and eating, activities, and hygiene are also important. Adequate sleep plays a role in a child’s ability to pay attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, for every 24 hours, children 3 – 5 years of age should sleep 10 – 13 hours, children 6 – 12 years of age should sleep 9 – 12 hours, and teenagers 13 – 18 years of age should sleep 8 – 10 hours to promote optimal health.
I will be the first to admit that this summer my nephew has been on a steady diet of chicken nuggets and bean burritos — more than I would like. Eating healthy foods, along with portion control, helps children function at their best.

Using the classic food pyramid image is an excellent visual for children to begin thinking about nutritious food options and balance. You can also create a fun and tangible experience by having your child(ren) cut out photos of food items from old magazines or newspapers and sort which foods are healthy and which are not.

Proper hygiene is vital as kids re-enter school to keep everyone safe and healthy. Show your kids how and when to wash their hands properly and how to sing something — such as the “Happy Birthday” song or chorus from the movie Frozen (don’t be shy, I know you know it) — to help them monitor how long they should be spending on the task. Covering their mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing will help reduce the spread of germs.

Better yet, tell your kids to do the “dab.” Although this is a dance move that involves dropping your head toward your elbow (that anyone can do, even my uncoordinated self), it is also a fun and creative way for parents to remind their kids about germ control.

Mental Health Awareness: Model and Discuss Coping Skills

Our mental health is equally as important as our physical health. Being mentally healthy during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, learning healthy social skills, and learning how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a more positive outlook and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities. Modeling coping skills (such as deep breathing exercises, taking a walk, or coloring a picture) to our children when we are feeling triggered sets the example of how to effectively handle stressful situations.

Reach Out

Remember that you are not alone! One of my favorite parts of my job is communicating with families and being able to facilitate home-school collaboration. If you need support, you have a whole team of folks happy to lend a hand or offer advice. Giovanna reminds us, “If parents are in need of additional assistance, they should reach out to school staff to come up with a plan to assist the student with the transition. If the student has a personal mental health provider, it would be helpful to include them in the process.”

As a general rule of thumb, you may want to consider seeking help if your child’s behavior causes distress for your child or your family or interferes with your child’s functioning at school, at home, or with friends. If your child’s behavior becomes unsafe, or if your child talks about wanting to hurt themselves or someone else, please seek help immediately.


Call 1-575-636-3636; Text 636-3636; Email [email protected]

New Mexico Crisis and Access Line
1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474)

New Mexico Peer to Peer Warmline
Call or text 1-855-4NM-7100 (466-7100)

Your Life Your Voice
Call 1-800-448-3000; or text VOICE
to 20121

Written and photography by Desiree Bustamantes

Originally published in Neighbors magazine.

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