Back to school jitters reside with parents as we approach the dilemma of school reopenings
Many of us have a love and hate relationship with the 1st day pictures that we see online of kids of all ages returning to their respective places of learning in the Fall. It seems that it is a rite of passage that after all of the digging through bins at Target we can finally feel a sigh of relief knowing that we got all of the things that the teacher’s- to- buy list asked us to. In some homes in America we watch our kids get on the bus and say a quick prayer that they will make a friend or in some cases we hope that they will be the kid that gets recognized for their hard work even on the first day…we don’t fear that they will not be recognized because of the mask that covers half of their face keeping them safe from a deadly virus.
Our children are in a unique position this year and many parents have fears that cause great anxiety. The question of school safety is not a new one but somehow this new and improved way of looking at school safety is even more intense than how it is typically viewed.
As a mental health professional I ask parents to weigh pros and cons in most situations where they have to make difficult decisions. This usually helps with clarity and confidence when selecting the right choice. In this school reopening conversation it can be hard to do this exercise with assurance as there are so many unknowns and what we do not know can kill our children. In this situation of school re-opening knowledge is power but lack of knowledge is disempowering. Common concerns about social distancing, mask wearing, mental health under the new classroom set up are only a few of the topics that parents are trying to navigate but on top of the obvious are those uncontrollable but possible circumstances of the “what ifs”.
Every parent has played a game of the “what ifs” a time or two thousand but in this case our children’s lives and well being rests on the outcome. The option of virtual school becomes more attractive as we play rounds and rounds of the “what ifs” but please keep in mind that this option has many challenges as well and navigating structure, social engagement and supervision can tie into the choice to decide on a virtual option.
Let’s face it…school has changed since the pandemic and it won’t look the same as it once did. Accepting the fact that we need to learn how to grieve the former way of doing things is hard but if we do not let go of yesterday’s education setting and set up in a pre-pandemic world it will be even harder to teach our kids to mourn and eventually heal as they embark on a new way of interaction in learning.
- Create a support circle of parents, friends, community members that you can talk to when you are in need of emotional support.
- Develop tools that can assist your child in coping with what they will be missing under this new learning stucture. This can include keepsakes, a worry journal, and any exercise that gives your child a way to process loss.
- Have a weekly check-in with your family on thoughts about school safety, fears and gripes. Allow this to be a time where feelings are not judged but welcomed
- Consider the potential need for therapy and begin gathering a list of professionals now just in case you, your child or another family member needs to rely on counseling in the near future.
- Watch and monitor your expectations of yourself and others. You have never had to do this before and you are entitled to changing your mind if you discover that the idea that you had in mind was not the best one. Altering your opinion after evaluating you or your child’s circumstances is okay and should not be met with shame or embarrassment.
- Celebrate the victories. Schools are likely going to have less assemblies and class parties…try to replicate those fun times at home in a safe way.
- Be ready to add to this list. You don’t have to have it all figured out today.
The best option may not be clear and although you may be trying to navigate between hybrid, virtual, home-school or in-person the healthiest reminder is that education will happen this Fall in some form and in fact it is happening right now as you decipher what your own plan looks like.