Easing Worries about Returning to School: What Parents and Teachers Can Do

The thought of returning to school brings about a range of emotions in parents, teachers, and children. Parents are likely feeling anxious about the safety and wellbeing of their children and extended family, while a sense of relief may be lingering when you consider your child will be transitioning back into the classroom, interacting with their peers and teachers, and learning.

However, it is quite difficult to predict exactly what this transition will look like. The government has yet to disclose an exact date for the return of school and what the new “normal” will look like in the classroom. While it may be difficult to picture, it is important that we consider any worries around heading back to school and attending in-person classes.

What teachers can do:

Stick to a similar routine from before the pandemic. Keep sending out newsletters that look like ones that have been sent out previously. Make sure to include current photos of your students working online and projects they are each completing at home.

Let students get creative online. For older students, the use of online discussion forums, infographics, videos, blogs, or journals, allows students to present their knowledge in creative ways. Younger students can read aloud books and do “show-and-tell” virtually.

Teaching hybrid courses. For some teachers and instructors, courses will be blended come September, meaning that portions of the learning will be done online and in-person. Be sure to create a clear course description that will indicate how the course will be delivered, what learning objectives are, and how assignments will be done. For resources and support on how to best teach hybrid courses, tips, and instructional videos, click here: https://wordpress.oise.utoronto.ca/teachingonline/resources-faculty/

Pre-record lessons. To accommodate all students and their home schedules, record lessons so they can be paused or listened to at different times. This is especially helpful for students who have trouble with their attention over long periods of time. For younger children, short, live online-learning may be beneficial to keep them engaged for smaller periods.

Pair up students online. Put students into pairs or small groups and ask them to meet to create projects together virtually, discuss topics, and work on homework. This will help facilitate social interaction between students during isolation.

Create a class calendar for your students. This will allow students to keep track of when assignments are due, what days you are holding office hours, and exact dates for interactive class times.

Be overly enthusiastic during lessons. This will help engage students and keep them interested even when online learning can feel a bit less personal.

Call on students during lessons. Like you did in the classroom, call students' names and ask them questions to keep them engaged in the lesson.

Let students interact. Even though students cannot physically be in the same place, allow them to interact through online learning. This can be done by creating break-out rooms or simply asking students to work together on projects over video-chat, google documents, or google slides.

Stay in close contact with parents. Parents are unsure of the current and future schooling situation. Send regular updates and reach out to parents over the phone. Even if you do not have details on how things will look, give them as much information as you can.

Tell parents about things to practice at home with kids. Rather than just schoolwork, practical skills like proper handwashing and mask-wearing techniques can be practiced at home to prepare for a safe return to school. Have parents wear masks for periods at home to normalize that teachers will likely be wearing masks and face shields at school

Turn the pandemic into a vehicle for learning. The novel coronavirus topic can be used to inspire many different lessons across a range of subjects. For history class you can ask students to research different pandemics and epidemics that have occurred in the past; for science you can discuss the illness origin, how it is spread, and the family of viruses that it comes from; writing and poetry can incorporate lessons on the virus, asking students to write about the virus, frontline workers, personal experiences, fears and emotional responses to the pandemic.

Zones of Regulation EN

What parents can do:

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and emotions. Let your child express how they feel and talk about those feelings. If this isn’t something you and your child usually do verbally, you can use visual charts or journal entries to help them express how they’re feeling. Ask your child to describe their mood today, draw a picture of their mood, and write about what made them feel that way.  

Talk about how specific situations make them feel. Examples include going back to school or being apart from friends, teachers, and family. The more specific you are, the better you can understand what is making your child worried and how you can talk about that together.

Be honest with your kids. Tell your children how you are feeling about specific parts of the current pandemic and quarantine. This way they won’t feel alone or worried about sharing their own thoughts.

Develop a plan with your kids. You and your children should create a plan together. Express to your kids that, even though this is a scary time, together you will keep your hands clean, wear masks, and stay six-feet-apart from other people to stay safe. Explain that their teachers are also working hard to plan how to keep everyone at schools safe for when they re-open.

Model behaviour. There are certain regulations in place, such as wearing masks, handwashing and standing six-feet-apart from others, that will likely also be in schools when they re-open. Practice these health behaviours at home by modelling them for your children and practicing them together.

Schedules. Create a family schedule that will keep both yourself and your children accountable for chores, school-work, and fun activities. Have your children practice turn taking and responsibility by asking them to walk the dog, empty the dishwasher, and help fold laundry. Remember to include fun family activities on the schedule so children have something to break-up their time working and the whole family has something to look forward to.    


You may still have many questions about specific behaviours of your child or adolescent, and whether this behaviour is developmentally appropriate, or if it is a sign that something may be wrong. The ABC’s of Mental Health is a free resource created by professionals at the Hospital for Sick Children that provides ways you can promote wellness and understand what behaviours may indicate a problem: https://www.sickkidscmh.ca/ABC/Parent-Resource/The-Worried-Child/Introduction.aspx

If you are still unsure of whether you should be worried about your child’s behaviours, it may be useful to contact a clinical psychologist or other mental health professional to discuss.

Below are free resources you and your children can use:

Ontario - Kids Help Phone

Phone service is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, national service offering bilingual (English and French) professional counselling, information and referrals and volunteer-led, text-based support for young people.

Tel: 1-800-668-6868


Free, confidential, and anonymous helpline, for individuals ages 17-25. Open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. Provides professional counselling and information and referrals for mental health, addictions and well-being over the phone and in-person, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tel: 1-866-925-5454

Text: GOOD2TALKON to 686868 (chat with a trained, volunteer Crisis Responder)

Mental Health Helpline

Listens, offers support and provides strategies to help you meet your goals. Provides information about counselling services and supports in your community  over the phone and in-person.

Tel: 1-866-531-2600

Website: http://www.mentalhealthhelpline.ca/

Gerstein Crisis Centre Telephone Call Line

Free, voluntary, and confidential crisis intervention service over the phone and in-person, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tel: 416-929-5200

Distress Centre Telephone Call Line

Crisis line offering free services for individuals in distress who require urgent emotional care and for individuals who have been physically or sexually assaulted or who are at risk of being assaulted.

Distress Centre Central: 416-598-0166

Distress Centre North York: 416-486-3180

Distress Centre Scarborough: 416-439-0744

Distress Centre Peel: 905-278-7208

Mental Health Service Information Ontario (MHSIO)

Information about mental health services and supports in communities across Ontario.

Tel: 1-866-531-2600

Website: www.mhsio.on.ca

By Ana Zdravkovic, M.A., Ph.D. Student and Esther Geva, Ph.D, C. Psych.

July 20, 2020

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