As summer comes to an end, parents everywhere are beginning a school year like no other. Our modern-day world is up against a pandemic that has parents, teachers, and administrators on edge about how to educate children best while also protecting everyone from COVID-19. Preparing for this school year has been anxiety-provoking for everyone as the nation struggles to find a cohesive narrative around fact and fiction.
Back to school is a time-honored tradition for many—another milestone on the developmental trajectory of life and a much-needed structure for families. It is experienced in many different ways. For many children, school is an escape from a less than desirable home life. Some single parents may depend on school for a variety of functions. At the same time, the school allows working parents the space to focus on providing for their families. Whatever the situation, the 2020-2021 school year brings a host of challenges to parents, guardians, and caregivers of school-age children.
The ripple effect of this pandemic presents us with tough choices. The decision-making process for those negotiating the best thing for their family comes with pandemic anxiety. If infected, children are likely to be asymptomatic or suffer mild symptoms, even as some studies indicate that children may carry greater amounts of virus in their noses and throats. The older adults in their life are at a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill. Depending on the ages and health concerns of a school-age child's family members, the consequences could be fatal.
With so many considerations, there is no one size fits all solution. Each family has a different situation to think about when it comes to sending kids back to school. Preschool and early elementary age children have different needs than middle school and high schoolers. And for those whose children require extra care due to unique physical or neurological challenges, school is a necessary resource that many are unable to outsource privately.
Back to school, 2020 looks different depending on where you live. Some of the proposed solutions to going back to school include in-person, hybrid, remote, and pod-style learning. Depending on the situation – private or public education – parent's choices are limited. In the month leading up to school starting, many families have been deciding between a hybrid of in-school and remote learning – as a seemingly perfect compromise to everyone's concerns. For some, this model has held and is currently in place; for others, remote learning is the only option for now.
With so much to digest, what approaches can one take? There are things parents can do to manage their anxiety and help ease the transition for everyone. Depending on your situation – remote, hybrid, or in-school learning – parents and caregivers will benefit from the following ideas:
- Develop Routines for Your Family: In any other situation, it is helpful to have a routine. Most of us thrive when we know what to expect. Pandemic times, with all of their uncertainty, has shifted their balance. Back to school is an opportunity to reclaim a new routine. Treat back-to-school (whatever your situation) as if it were a regular school day. During the school week, kids should wake up at a set time and go to bed at a reasonable time. Parents can adjust this accordingly based on the ages and specific needs of their child.
For example, in remote learning situations, it is helpful and empowering to make sure your child is:
- Waking up at a set time, getting dressed, and eating breakfast
- Working in an appropriate space (as much as your home allows for), free of distractions
- Prepared by having learning materials ready (Chromebook, books, notebooks, pencils sharpened. etc.)
A similar routine applies to hybrid or in-person learning situations. Your child's new school routine can help facilitate a structure to support your needs as a parent.
- Set Realistic Expectations: Finding the balance between work and school is challenging at the best of times. It requires flexibility and a willingness to make adjustments. COVID-19 challenges our balance in a new way. Be patient with yourself. Things will look different than they have in the past. It is okay to make room for uncertainty. We are all adapting to a "new normal." When you feel stress levels rising, it helps check in with your expectations and adjust accordingly.
- Lead from Acceptance: 2020 has been a year of shifts and uncertainty. We are grieving the loss of our life as it was when we could move more freely, be with our friends and family, travel for work or pleasure, and buy groceries without standing in line and wearing a mask. And our kids could go to school without much worry. Some days we are in denial, while others may be angry, depressed, or bargaining. Whatever the stage of grief, it helps to lead from acceptance. Be in the moment that is available to you. Being mindful of the present moment helps ease anxiety and allows us to be present for ourselves and our children. It is a practice to be present, so when things feel overwhelming, try starting with acceptance.
4.Engage in Self-Care: For parents of school-age children, it is wise to engage in self-care routines that include – sleep, regular exercise, good nutrition, hydrations, a healthy media diet. With so much anxiety around helping our kids transition to a new learning environment, it can be easy to forget our own needs. Carving out time to take care of your mental and physical health is so important. Prioritizing self-care is preventative medicine, and it will serve you well as you navigate the school year with your family.
5.Seek Professional Help: With Telehealth readily available, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional for additional support. Talking to a third party with expertise provides another layer of support that can ease your concerns and validate the challenges of navigating life in a pandemic.