counselor's corner

Hello Riley Families!

I wanted to share some thoughts by Psychologist Tara Quinlivan about the emotional response we may see in our children when they return to school, as well as some ideas for ways we can best prepare them for that transition. If there is a counselor’s message to read and save for later, this would be it (and just so you know where to look, all of our counseling resources are located on our district website here South Plainfield Elementary Counseling Website

While I’m sure many of our students are eager to get back in the classroom and with their teachers and friends again, we’ll likely see some anxiety in our children as well. We’ve spent the last few months teaching our children that the outside world is dangerous and that we must stay home, but come the new year we will be sending them back out into a world that may now feel unsafe. There will also likely be some big changes, and school will not be the exact same experience as before COVID19. Change is often uncomfortable for children and adults alike. This could be compounded by the fact that for most children, they seek to be near their caregivers and places of security when they are in distress.

According to Dr. Quinlivan, some behaviors you may see as we return to school are:

  • A reluctance or even refusal to go to school
  • Increased clinginess in the morning
  • Increased tearfulness
  • Poor sleep on nights before school
  • Temper tantrums on school mornings
  • Feeling sick (especially stomach aches, headaches, and other aches related to muscle tension)
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Hyperactive or withdrawn behaviors
  • Oppositional behaviors and refusal to do work
  • Behaviors more common to a younger age
  • Being more distracted

It’s important to recognize that these behaviors are likely a response to the trauma of an interrupted school year and stress from COVID19, and thus a reaction to perceived danger. When we are in our “fight or flight” response, the lower parts of our brains in charge of survival take over the higher-level parts of our brain in charge of clear thinking, reasoning, and emotional control. Our children are on high alert, which “might mean that they become hyper vigilant of their environment, paying attention to every small noise in and outside of the classroom,” making them easily distracted and unfocused. Being in this state of high alert is exhausting and can manifest into a physical hurt or sick feeling, as well as constant irritability. When we return to school, we can expect that many of our children will be functioning this way a little bit, and for some it might be more severe of a response.

We can also expect that we as parents and teachers will also feel some of this anxiety about our children returning to school. What is important to remember is curiosity, knowledge, and understanding. Dr. Quinlivan articulated it perfectly -“Question the behaviors you see in the children around you and questions your response. Approach problematic behaviors with good faith. Predict and assume that you are facing a frightened child rather than a disobedient one. We have more sympathy for our children’s behaviors when they’re sick than when they’re well, and we can tolerate and nurture more whining and clinging when given a medical context. Right now all of our souls feel a little sick. Take that empathy and patience and reframe children’s behaviors in your own mind. You’ll be amazed how powerful the presence of a sympathetic, contained, and curious adult can be on the most difficult of children’s behaviors” As people, we typically persist in our behaviors until we feel effectively heard by those around us. If we approach our children with understanding and empathy, we can help them understand and let go of the emotional energy that is driving them in that moment.

Strategies you can try to gradually expose your child to all thing school related and ease the transition:

  • Start your morning routine a week before school starts
  • Visit school before it starts
  • Start using language such as “when you go to school” rather than “If you go to school”
  • Use visuals like a calendar to countdown to school starting
  • Discuss the safety procedures your school will be implementing a few times before school starts
  • Give emotions names and start giving your child some language to help describe any feelings of anxiety or distress
  • Check-in with them before school starts. Ask them things like what they are looking forward to and what they think might be different. Validate any fears and correct any misconceptions.
  • Problem solve with them – if they have a particular worry, work with them to come up with a few solutions
  • Use your own feelings as a model to show that everyone experiences difficult emotions at times, and that there are strategies we can use to help ourselves feel better
  • Stay calm yourself. “Think about what you are going to need to help support your child with going back to school, as this will take both emotional energy and time. Think about what you can give, and if you can, recruit helpers, lighten your load for a week or two, and plan ways to also take a break for yourself.”
  • Communicate with your school.

We are all in this together, and I feel so grateful to be a part of such a caring South Plainfield community. I look forward to seeing you and helping to support you all. 

This month’s suggested Social Emotional Learning activities are:

Monday – Ask someone in your family to read to you the attached muscle relaxation script. Follow the prompts. Consider adding this strategy to your “tool box” whenever you are feeling stressed or upset.

Tuesday – Think about what you would like to accomplish this summer, and set 2 goals for yourself (or more if you’d like!) Ms. Ashnault’s goals are: Read 2 chapter books, and get outside to do something active at least 4 days a week.

Wednesday – Create a vision board with pictures of the things you would like to accomplish this year. 

Thursday – Especially during challenging or stressful times, a little kindness can make a huge impact on others. Complete Acts of Kindness (Or write the prompts on a blank sheet of paper: Being kind to others makes them feel, Some people I can show kindness to are, and little ways I can show kindness are)

Friday – Enjoy one final read aloud on Ms. Ashnault’s google classroom. (code pexk3j4)

In partnership,

Carly Ashnault 

Elementary Counselor, John E. Riley Elementary

South Plainfield Elementary School 

(908) 754-4620 x6631

cashnault@spboe.org


(Google Slide here)


Parent panels are brought to you by the four elementary school counselors in the South Plainfield School District. Counselors Ashnault, Fay, Wu and Zurawiecki discuss different topics that involve the elementary level student. These panels are held throughout the year and are predetermined based off of the need in each building.

Parent Panel Video

SP Elementary School Counseling Website

Community Counseling Resources

Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying (HIB) presentation 2022