School 2020-2021: Helping Kids Manage the Ups, Downs, and Changes

School 2020-2021: Helping Kids Manage the Ups, Downs, and Changes

School 2020-2021: Helping Kids Manage the Ups, Downs, and Changes

School resumes—and it’s already clear that it will be quite different this time around! Here are some considerations that are top-of-mind for parents and children, and 8 strategies to get the school year off to a great start.

This is an unprecedented back-to-school season, and families are juggling many concerns and transitions. Issues have to do with physical health, emotional well-being, social considerations, and change. Parents are concerned about getting things done, multi-tasking, and basically just keeping it together without getting too frazzled. They worry about their children’s education, confidence levels, vulnerability, and resilience. There are also pressing matters relating to finances, employment, family dynamics, community, and more. 

In the mist of all of this, children are well aware that things are not the same as they used to be. Everything seems to be up-ended, unpredictable, and even scary. This year, back-to-school time has a different vibe, and the ongoing threat of COVID-19 continues to interfere with the normal flow of daily life. Children have questions, and feelings that they may not be able to understand, express, or reconcile. 

As the 2020-2021 school year gets underway, and routines and expectations change yet again, a child’s somewhat tenuous hold on normalcy may be rattled once more. There may be separation from the confines of home after extended time there. Kids have to rekindle friendships, catch up on schoolwork, and familiarize themselves with new learning programs and health protocols. Plus, there are so many unknowns! And, uncertainty can give rise to discomfort, hesitation, and even immobilization.

There is a way forward. There must be a way forward. Children can find their way. How? By relying on family members and others they trust for mutual support and encouragement; by practicing sensible safety measures to mitigate risk (such as wearing masks, physical distancing, and maintaining strict hygiene); by being accepting of different or evolving schooling processes; and by tapping creativity and resourcefulness as means of problem-solving. All of this can be enabling, and can make a huge difference between whether a child will flounder or flourish throughout the school year.

 Here are 8 practical suggestions to help kids manage during this roller-coaster time as school gets underway.

  • One step at a time…  Effort fuels forward momentum. When kids feel uncertain or afraid about what lies ahead, even a little effort represents a start. Small steps and accomplishments lead toward bigger ones. Kids can mark down and check off their progress as it occurs. It will feel good! Provide children with direct, immediate, and constructive feedback so they develop an “I am capable!” attitude, and experience success. Offer reinforcement and guidance as they continue to persevere, step out of their comfort zones, and take the risks that the reopening of school might require.    
  • Encourage accountability.  Children ultimately have to learn to take ownership of what they choose to do (or not do) when they confront challenge or change, and then face the consequences of their decisions. Chat about that, at a level they can understand. Parents can share why they view challenges as creative opportunities, and why taking control of a situation is gratifying, and good preparation for other eventualities of life.
  • Is it meaningful?  The resumption of school means the resumption of different tasks and activities. If these are interesting—that is, if they relate to something important or intriguing, spark the imagination, connect somehow to goals or aspirations, or have a perceived personal value attached to them—then that’s motivating. And, when children are motivated, they’re more inclined to get on task, and maneuver their way through difficulties and across new frontiers.
  • Pay attention to skill sets.  A new school year may seem daunting. However, it’s an opportune time for children to consider the state of their work habits, including organizational and time management skills. School-related challenges may involve brushing up on technology; finding a quiet, well-equipped workspace; removing distractions; collaborating with others; or co-creating a way to set reasonable goals and monitor progress. As the school term proceeds, kids may need help clarifying instructions or expectations, or breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable segments. All of this will give them a sense of preparedness.
  • Strive for balance.  Everyone needs downtime—opportunities to relax, play, daydream, exercise, or just take a break. This is important for adults who have to keep the family chugging along during the relentless COVID chaos, and for children who are, after all, children. Downtime affords people a chance to unwind, to reflect, to consolidate ideas, and to create new ones, too. Sometimes just going outside and breathing fresh air or enjoying nature for a while can be invigorating and inspiring, regardless of the weather. 
  • Appreciate children’s past efforts, and previous successes.  These are like stepping-stones leading to future positive experiences and outcomes. Help kids see how they’ve overcome difficulties before. For example, they can compare a current task or school-based challenge to something familiar they’ve already accomplished, or something creative and interesting they’ve done recently—and think about how they were able to achieve that, and how it might inform or refresh their efforts. 
  • Look for an optimistic spin.  When confronting challenge or change, take a moment to consider—is it really that big, bad or intimidating? What’s the bright side? Replace a negative perspective with an upbeat, hopeful one. For instance, kids can think about how proud they’ll be once they complete a task, or how things go better (and often more quickly and with greater fun and creative energy) when shared with friends. And, it’s okay to ask for help! 
  • Encourage children to listen to others.  How do you, friends, and family members tackle challenges, qualms, and hurdles? Kids can be motivated by the experiences of others. There are countless wonderful stories, parables, quotes, and biographies about individuals who have faced challenges, overcome difficulties, harnessed creativity, and triumphed. Let these inspire! Most importantly, let children know that you’re available to listen to them, too—to hear about their various experiences and ideas. 


The best kind of challenge is one you can master.”

ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 25

When kids know they have strategies for dealing with the difficulties that the 2020-2021 school year may present, they’ll feel more empowered—prepared, relaxed, and confident. Encourage them to try and reframe their thinking (including any reservations) so as to be anticipative, and to look for and find resources and creative opportunities. Show them that you have faith in their abilities. Help kids see the advantages that are byproducts of being flexibly responsive to obstacles and striving to overcome them, and the possibilities that ensue from embracing change.                                                                  


The COMPLIMENTARY resource A to Z for Parents: Coping Today, Moving Forward Tomorrow, is offered with gratitude and optimism in collaboration with publisher Gifted Unlimited, LLC

The Roots of Action website offers wonderful material on creativity, resilience, curiosity, resourcefulness, and more. The list “55 Best Back-to-School Articles for Parents 2020” contains a treasure trove of resources.

See the 2020 Creativity Post article Sensible Ways to Encourage Children’s Intelligence AND Creativity to discover ten sure-fire strategies—plus resources, too. There are MANY articles—on a range of key topics—within my column at The Creativity Post

Some of the ideas noted in the current article above (and other ideas, too) are fleshed out in a webinar for SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted), entitled A Surprising Source of Strength: Empowering Kids to Use Creativity Through Challenge.

The article Reassuring Young Children During the Coronavirus Outbreak offers lots of suggestions for parents. Also, see the article There’s No Place Like Home: Nurturing Children’s Well-being and Learning (Plus Discover Resources, Too). Both these pieces are featured in First Time Parent Magazine                                                                                                                               

On the Resources Page of my website, there’s an abundance of COVID-specific resource material for parents (such as articles, webinars, and interviews). Scroll down—each of these items is marked with a red asterisk for easy reference. 

Joanne Foster’s most recent book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child.  Readers can find further information about optimal child development in Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster.) Dr. Foster also wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and its predecessor Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. To learn more about these books, and for access to a wide range of articles and links, please go to  

For excellent resources on supporting and encouraging creativity and high-level development see the assortment of material at Gifted Unlimited LLC

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