Preparing Our Children for School in the Time of COVID19
As school districts continue to adjust plans for returning to school for the 2020-2021 year, the normal schedule of school shopping and last summer vacations have been replaced with stress around parental decisions on virtual vs in-person learning and what is best for one’s own child. Although as parents, the stress is real, it is important to recognize that our children are also trying to navigate this new normal. We must remember that school starting was often something that our children could count on. The anticipation (or dread) about class schedules, teacher assignments, and whether their friends would be in the same classes were the primary sources of concern. Now, in a time of social distancing, new school regulations, and an ever-changing landscape that will result in the upcoming academic year looking very different, parents are faced with the task of preparing their children to experience education in a new way. Whether a parent chooses (or is told to) do online learning for their child, full in-person education, or a hybrid of the two, getting our children emotionally ready for this school year requires some shifting considerations.
1. Listen to their concerns---you are not the only one who is seeing the news, hearing the conversations, or engaging with peers about the changes to the school year. This is the time to begin to ask your child about his/her/their thoughts about all of the changes occurring in schooling. Listening to their concerns will give you insight into additional questions you may need to ask their school district or ones you may begin to ask yourself as you try to make the difficult decision about what is best for your child
2. Answer their questions-even if they ask them several times. Anxiety is playing a role in the lives of children at this time of uncertainty. Oftentimes, they will ask the same question over for the purpose of reassurance.
3. Validate their feeling: good and bad—This summer has not truly been a summer for many children. With social distancing and Stay-At-Home orders, they have experienced some level of emotional and physical disconnection from their peers. Although you may be worried about school resuming, your child might be excited---simply for the opportunity to get out of the house and spend time with their friend----no matter what that looks like. On the other hand, your child may also be worried, scared, reluctant to return to school---whether it is because virtual is an option and the “fun” of school does not exist as much in that platform, or they worry about the ongoing spread of COVID19. Let them know that whatever feelings they have (even if they seem contradictory at times) are theirs and are okay to have.
4. Discuss how school will be different—regardless of which school option is ultimately decided upon, we are in a “new normal”. For those going in-person, there is a push for smaller class sizes, play not being hands-on, and less movement within the school. Review these changes with your child. Answer their questions. Ask them what they would like you to ask their own school administrators about these changes. For those who are going virtual, discuss whether or not there will be school-determined structure for the day. Identify how they will be connected socially (if at all) to their classmates during that time
5. Practice the changes that will be implement—People say “change can be a good thing”. It can be, if it is (1) a change you want and (2) it is one for which you are prepared. Do not expect your children who have been primarily within their homes this summer to automatically know to practice social distancing in a school setting, or to wear a mask for much of the day, or even to be as mindful about wiping down surface that they use. Review these with your child and make them a part of your daily routine in preparation for in-person school.
6. Explain the changes to them (in age appropriate language) the reasons for them. In the cases of virtual school, begin to work with your child on establishing a schedule for logging in and completing work. Try to designate (if space permits) a place for them to complete their schoolwork---even if that space is used for other purposes at other times in the day
7. Make them a part of the educational choice being made (if appropriate to do so)-For teens, these may mean fully reviewing the pros and cons of virtual, hybrid, and in-person school options.
Lastly, have patience with your children and yourself. This is not an educational landscape for which any of us are prepared. Yet, we must keep in mind that we are all trying to do what is best for our children and their social, emotional, and educational growth.
Dr. Tyffani Dent is a Licensed Psychologist. She centers the needs of Black women and girls in her work. She is the mother of two amazing Black girls who have very different opinions on their individual returning to school plans.