The COVID-19 pandemic has made things very uncertain right now, and your kids can sense it. The good news is, you can help your child navigate through the unknown.
As we approach the school year, many parents, perhaps like you, must make the choice of whether to have their children attend school in a face-to-face format, online, or a combination. And even if your kids do grace the halls of their school this year, things will be different, with teachers (and possibly students) wearing masks, social distancing measures, and a heavier concentration on sanitizing (to say the least).
Schools are planning the best way they know how to provide both safety and a quality education this year for kids, but let’s face it: we’ve never been in this situation before, and there’s no standard operating procedure in place for this.
All this adds up to the fact that you and your kids face a great unknown in a few short weeks. Just what will this school year be like? It’s a question of uncertainty.
As adults, we know what it is to go through those seasons where you don’t know what’s going to happen, and many of us still feel a sense of anxiety during times like these.
But for children, the uncertainty of what their school year will be like can be especially distressing. And though they may feel an extra measure of anxiety and stress from facing that unknown, you can help your child through it.
So what can you do to help your child work through this season of uncertainty?
1. Acknowledge the unknown to your child.
Open up the conversation with your child about not knowing exactly how the school year is going to go. Explain to them whether there’s a decision to be made, and what that may look like in terms they can understand.
Avoid having decision-making conversations with your child present or asking them what they would choose. Chances are, they will tell you what they would prefer; however, there are factors they cannot understand, and to them, their decision-making is permanent. They need to know that the final decision comes from you, the parent. As a parent, you have to educate yourself and decide what is right for your family. Keep in mind the decision you ultimately make could change based on new information, and you’ll want to let your child know that.
★ Depending on their age, express the idea of the unknown in language that says, “Because COVID-19 is still a concern, school is going to look different this year. This is the decision I/we have made as your parent(s), because, right now, we think it’s best for our whole family. We hope things won’t change with our decision, but if they do, then we have to figure out the next best thing. But even if we don’t know what it’s going to be like, we are going to be okay, and we are going to get through this together. I’m here to help you through all of it. We aren’t just going to survive—we are going to thrive!”
2. Don’t “pre-purchase” anxiety.
After reading the first bullet point, you may be nervous that you are injecting a huge dose of shock and anxiety in your child. And of course, they might be at least somewhat apprehensive; that’s to be expected. But don’t let this shake you. Talking about it helps your child process the idea of not knowing what to expect and builds resilience to the stress of unknown situations as they grow.
The important thing to remember is to check your own anxiety at the door. Children follow the cues for anxiety, stress, and depression from their parents (that’s you), and if you are freaking out over an uncertain school year, you are “pre-purchasing” anxiety for your child. It’s okay for you to feel a certain amount of distress for your kids; just remember they are looking to you as a model for regulating emotions and handling their fear.
3. Normalize what they’re feeling.
Let them know that how they are feeling about the uncertainty of the school year is okay. You don’t want them to feel ashamed or abnormal because of any kind of anxiety or fear they may have. The key is not to fix their emotions, but to help them work through them. Encourage them to identify what they are feeling: Do you feel scared? Nervous? Angry? Keep in mind that they may not know how to articulate what they are feeling. Help them put some words to the emotions. When you can name something, then you can begin to work through it.
4. Identify what your kids can control.
Anxiety and stress often come from a feeling of losing control. So, helping your kids understand what you can control in the midst of the unknown helps to alleviate those negative emotions. For example, they can ask for help anytime. They can come and talk to you if they are feeling overwhelmed. They can stay organized with their school work. And they can take care of themselves.
★ Additionally, be sure to establish a routine at home when the school year begins. Keep regular meal times and bedtime routines. Routines and structure help give kids a sense of consistency, security, and control, especially in the midst of uncertainty.
5. Coach your kids in doing self-care.
Doing intentional things to care for themselves may be your child’s best tool to work through the fear of uncertainty. But this isn’t necessarily natural to them; you’ll have to guide them on a daily basis. Encourage them to get some kind of outside time each day. Help them to go to bed at a decent hour and get plenty of rest each night. (According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children between the ages of 6 and 12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night.) Set a limit on screen time, too. Intentional self-care helps uncertain times seem less daunting.
Times are definitely uncertain. But one thing we do know: this won’t be the only time your children face the unknown. There is a bigger picture here. Life is full of unpredictability. What we teach them now about how to handle uncertain times will go with them into adulthood. And let’s be honest: the unknown of the school year ahead is survivable. You can manage it. And your child will get through it. Helping your child through this unknown will help them strengthen their resilience and grit for a lifetime.