It is, somehow, already the end of July, which means some of our kids are mere weeks away from returning to the classroom—or not. School districts across the country are announcing back to school plans that are either fully in person, fully online or some hybrid of the two. Our kids want to know what that’s going to be like. So even if you, like me, still don’t know how your child’s school year will be structured, it is time to talk with them about it.
Ask them how they feel
If you haven’t already, now is a good time to sit down with your kids to talk about what this school year might look like. And keep in mind that even if you haven’t talked about it with them all summer, they—like you—have likely been mulling it over, wondering and waiting to hear whether they’ll go back into the classroom and what it will look like if they do. So start by asking them how they are feeling about the school year, or what their hopes and fears are.
They might be really excited to be back around their friends but nervous about needing to wear a mask for most of the day. And after so many months of physical distancing and staying at home, they may also be scared to venture out around so many people again. It’s important to talk about their feelings or concerns so you can help support them.
Address the uncertainty
If there is one thing 2020 has taught us so far, it is the ability to live for months in a stew of uncertainty—and this fall will be no different. Kids want to know what back-to-school is going to look like, but the truth is that we really don’t know. Even if your district has announced its specific plan, by now we all know that things can change very quickly. So we can tell our kids what we do know, and what has been decided so far, but we should also acknowledge that everything is subject to change.
Talk about the need for everyone in the family, and in the community, to continue to be flexible. Our flexibility and our ability to adapt is what will ultimately keep us safe and healthy. Point out ways they’ve already done a great job being flexible, such as by switching to virtual learning in the spring and adapting the primary ways they communicate with friends and family.
Focus on what is within their control
Nobody can live within complete uncertainty, though; kids need to have some control over something. So talk about what they can do to prepare for the school year. They can pick out school supplies with you. If they’ll be going into the classroom, they can choose a few new masks with fun patterns (my son and I just ordered a couple more Minecraft and Pokémon masks last night). If they’ll be staying home, they can help you set up a learning nook with a table or desk, a chair and their supplies.
If they’ll be in the school, talk about the safety precautions that will be put in place for them by administrators, staff and teachers, and then talk about what they can do to contribute to the safety of themselves and others. Regular hand-washing, wearing their mask, coughing or sneezing into their elbows, staying distanced whenever possible and avoiding touching their faces are all things kids can practice doing regularly to keep themselves and others safe.
Keep your negative feelings to yourself
It’s great to empathize with however our kids are feeling about school right now, but parents should be careful not to unload our own negative feelings onto them. That’s the message child psychologist Dr. Nicole Beurkens relayed to an ABC station in Michigan:
“One of the most important things for parents to remember in all of this is that how we approach it as adults and as parents is going to make a huge difference with how our kids feel about this. So regardless of our own personal feelings—and our stress may be running high, we may be having some anxieties or frustrations—we want to really try to avoid speaking negatively about school and about the plans in front of kids.”
You might think your school is being reckless with how they’re handling back-to-school, you might think they’re overreacting or you might think the district is being run by a bunch of idiots—and you might be right. But save the ranting for when the kids are in bed and you can unleash on your partner or a friend.
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