How to Help Children Transition Back to School in a New World

A group of happy-looking children stands outside of their classroom preparing for the first day of school. Wearing masks due to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a difficult transition onto all of us as we shifted from what we knew as “normal” to a socially distant, virtually focused world.

This transition took a toll on people of all ages and from all walks of life, but was particularly tough for children.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, we look toward the start of this school year with much more optimism than we did back in 2020.

However, that brings with it a unique set of new challenges, as many children who had become used to remote learning and social distancing are now facing (in some cases) a full-time return to in-person learning.

While many adults look at this as a return to “normal,” these types of jarring transitions can be very difficult for children.

Think about all of the in-person things that children haven’t experienced over the past year, or have experienced in an extremely limited way: sharing a seat at the lunch table with peers, learning how to take turns when playing a game with a friend, socializing on the playground, and more.

When you consider that all of these things will now return at once and will bring with them a disruption to your child’s routine, it’s easy to see why this year’s return to school is filled with anxiety for children (and their parents too).

Some children who became accustomed to learning on a laptop in their bedroom or living room will struggle with a return to the regulated routine of an uninterrupted school schedule – similar to how many parents likely experienced a bit of difficulty shifting from remote work back into the office.

The steps below are meant to help parents offer support to their children during this period of transition and to help make this year’s return to school go as smoothly as possible.


As mentioned above, many of us adults see this change as something children will embrace, considering it’s what they were used to prior to COVID-19.

However, we all know that children and adults process things like routines and unknowns very differently.

When a child expresses fear or uncertainty about returning to school, it’s important that parents recognize and discuss those feelings while also trying to reassure the child.

If your child is anxious about getting sick, you can acknowledge that as a perfectly normal thing to feel and try to remind your child of the health and safety protocols the school will have in place.

If your child expresses concern about being separated from mom, dad, and siblings, try to remind your child of the good things he or she will experience: seeing friends, seeing a favorite teacher, or playing a favorite school game.


Similar to the section above, regular communication is key during this transitional period.

Children should have a support system where they feel like they can communicate their feelings and challenges during this unique time.

Encourage your child to talk about how he or she feels about returning to school.

If any concerns are raised, discuss them in a supportive fashion.

Once your child returns to school, regularly ask your child how he or she is feeling – does school feel safe? Is it good to see your friends and teachers again?

If you have concerns about how your child is handling the return to school, consider speaking with a teacher or counselor at the school. Resources like counseling or one-on-one sessions with teachers may help.

Embrace Routine

During some parts of quarantine and remote learning, your children may have been able to spend more time with parents, siblings, and other household members.

These “blessings in disguise” could include things like regular sit-down dinners that weren’t possible before due to school, work, and extracurricular activities, or a walk outside during a break at lunch.

While some of these things may no longer be possible due to a return to school, parents should consider finding ways to incorporate new aspects of “togetherness” into the new routines.

Maybe the family can take a walk shortly after dinner instead, or can set time aside to play a game on certain weeknight.

These new routines will also help dramatically increase communication between you and your child.

It’s important to remember that children are going from spending the majority of their time with their parents and siblings to spending the majority of their time outside the home.

Setting time aside for togetherness and family time can help ease that transition.


As children return to an in-person environment, socializing can be a challenge, especially for kids who don’t have siblings of a similar age at home.

Children spent months limited to socially distant play or in-person play with a very limited group of people

Now, having new kids around may seem like a foreign concept.

Children may feel awkward and anxious around new people or have increased difficulty making new friends.

With that in mind, it may be a good idea to try to set up some times for your children to play with other kids before or shortly after going back to school, if it can be done safely.

Consider setting up a playdate with a friend your child hasn’t seen in a while, or taking your child to the playground or to community groups to be around other children.

It’s important to continue to take COVID-19 seriously and to take the proper precautions when doing these activities, but they can be a way to get your child a little more comfortable being around peers after so much time apart.

It’s important to keep in mind that the return to school, especially during a pandemic, truly is a transition – it won’t be like flipping a switch.

Some days may be easier than others, and some children may handle the changes better than others.

As parents, the best thing you can do is support and encourage your children through the ups and downs, ensuring that they’re able to focus on learning and on that simplest of joys – just being a kid!

Susan Clinton Martin, MD, MPH is a pediatrician at South Shore Medical Center.

Dr. Martin sees patients at our Norwell and Quincy locations, and is accepting new patients!

Learn more about Primary Care and become a patient.