As the back-to-school season begins, students and parents alike will be navigating a “new normal” in their educational environment due to COVID-19. Some schools will continue to teach virtually, while others will add safety precautions for everyone to follow and open their doors. Kids will want to know what to expect and may seek extra structure and security as a result of these changes. It’s important that parents and caregivers help provide that for their children however they can, along with addressing their kids’ concerns in a thoughtful and caring way. Here are some tips for discussing back-to-school topics with your kids in the midst of COVID-19.
“It’s Okay to Feel Worried”
One of the most important things to communicate with your child is that it’s okay to feel complex emotions about going back to school. Encourage them to speak freely about their feelings, and listen carefully and calmly as they express their thoughts and emotions. Empower them to process their feelings constructively through creative means, playing or talking to you or another trusted adult. By reminding them to express themselves and giving them tools to process their environment in a healthy way, you’ll help them prepare for a new school year.
Kids take many of their social cues from their parents and caregivers. If you remain calm while discussing COVID-19 with them, they likely will, too. Remember to avoid using negative language about the situation. Do your best to avoid placing blame or passing on any form of stigma surrounding the virus and people who may carry it, as your child is likely to follow your lead in whatever you do or say. As a parent, you may want to seek out support as well, and we encourage you to do so. Meeting with other parents or teachers may be a huge help so you can express your concerns in a safe environment.
Every school system will have different methods for bringing children back to school in the fall. Stay informed about what those methods are, what the schools are doing to keep students safe and what you can do to help out. Then, pass on whatever information you can to your child. The more your child understands the process of returning to school safely, the better they will feel about it.
An easy way to teach your child about sanitation while also reassuring them of their safety is to teach them to wash their hands regularly, cough and sneeze into their elbow, avoid touching their faces and keep their distance from their classmates. Make the process of normalizing cleanliness into a fun activity with a favorite song or dance and by leading by example.
Be Ready and Willing to Talk About Tough Topics
COVID-19 is adding another layer of nuance to the already complex culture of schooling. Your child will be adapting to whatever regulations that have been implemented, whether that means social distancing, wearing protective face coverings, moving from class to class in a specified way or eating lunch in a classroom instead of in a lunchroom. Additionally, COVID-19 will likely add to student conversations, leading to the spread of both information and misinformation.
Furthermore, the topic of COVID-19 could become a subject of bullying and other forms of discrimination. It’s important that you emphasize to your child that these forms of behavior are unkind and inappropriate. If they are on the receiving end of bullying or witness it taking place, they should report it to you or to an authority figure at school.
Social dynamics will change, too, as children may feel isolated from their friends due to changes in class structure or as a result of physical distancing. This could lead to heightened loneliness and depression. Your child will likely continue to experience an ever-evolving educational environment, which might lead to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental/emotional distress. Not only that, contact with counselors and therapists may be limited due to higher demand, and capacity restrictions. If your child seems to display symptoms of emotional distress, take time to discuss the situation with them and come up with solutions together. You can offer increased opportunities for safe communication and socialization with friends and loved ones. And, if necessary, talk with your physician or school administrators about ways to provide opportunities for extra professional guidance and support.
For these reasons and more, it’s important to discuss difficult topics with your children, and gently start the conversations if they don’t. This will be a school year unlike any they’ve ever experienced, changing even from the virtual learning experiences they received (or may not have received) when schools closed earlier this year. It may be more challenging for students who are going into their first years of elementary school, middle school or high school.
It will also be different for children who are being homeschooled for the first time. Parents and caregivers may want to continue educating their children at home as a result of COVID-19, which will create a different learning environment with potentially less interaction with peers than they are accustomed to.
No matter what your child faces when returning to school, be prepared to discuss and work through their needs in a constructive manner. Work with your child’s teachers and school system when possible to make the most of your child’s educational opportunities.
You can also reassure your child about going back to school by implementing or maintaining a structure or routine that works for them. Throughout the changes stemming from COVID-19, kids will need and want structure to help them cope with change. Set meal times, bedtimes and morning/evening routines for them to follow, and support them so they can complete schoolwork in a timely manner. Monitor and limit their screen time, if they have it, as excessive screen time can be an added source of stress.
Emphasize the Positive
While COVID-19 has drastically changed the livelihoods and lifestyles of many, it’s important to remind yourself and your children that there are many positive aspects of returning to school. Your child will be able to see their friends and teachers again, and they will be able to return to a constructive learning environment. School still provides structure and opportunities for creative and social engagement. Changes are taking place that will affect the experience, but it’s important that you encourage your child to think about and remember the fun and excitement of learning.
We’re Here to Help
At Community Access Network, we care deeply for you and your children. We want to help you stay as healthy as possible in every way. As schools reopen with COVID-19 regulations in place, we can help you understand and navigate the process in a way that’s comfortable for you and your family. Contact us today or walk in to see one of our providers!