How Parents Can Prepare for School Re-Opening in the Covid-Era
Being a Pro Organizer I initially thought I was going to have this post be about organizing your homeschool space, setting up morning routines, etc. BUT my Social Worker mindset took over and I took a different track. I think what's weighing heavily on our minds is how to wrap our heads around what schooling is going to look like in this COVID era. So I've put together some questions that will be helpful in organizing your thoughts around this stressful time.
How do I inform my child about what the school plan will be?
For most states there seem to be 3 options on the table for school - return to the classroom, distance learning at home, or a hybrid of the two. Whatever you decide as a family will be what's best for your household. So whichever option you choose or whichever your school district chooses for its student body your job is to sell it to your children. They will take your lead in how you respond so keep an open mind and fully support whatever option is selected.
My child is worried about a return to in-classroom learning. How should I respond?
Have an open conversation with them about their specific fears and worries and try to address each one. Remember knowledge reduces anxiety. And if you don't know an answer, say so. I think it's important to stress that this time that we're in is a bit of a gray area and we're all trying to figure it out as we go.
Also, it will be important to remind your child of the measures that are in place to keep students safe - the 3 W's: wearing a mask, washing hands often, and watching your distance. Be sure to also temper this with the positives of them being able to see their friends, meeting a new teacher, and continuing to learn new things.
How should I address my child's concerns about wearing a face covering at school?
Right now the CDC is recommending that all children and staff wear face coverings when in the classroom unless you have a doctor's note indicating otherwise. Start NOW getting your child acclimated to wearing a mask. Have your child test out a variety of masks to figure out which one they like best and start to build up their stamina with wearing one around the house. Start with wearing the mask while playing a board game, then move up to watching a movie, then try to keep it on from breakfast to lunch, etc. Remind your child that there will be built-in breaks throughout the day to take off the mask and keep the overarching message of safety in mind as the reason for wearing face coverings.
As a side note, be sure to have at least 5-7 face coverings that will get children through the week and extra in case they lose one. And don't forget to add some personal bottles of hand sanitizer for their back to school kit.
My child is worried about feeling isolated given concerns they may not be assigned to the same cohort as their friends. How do I address this?
This is a real concern of many students and one that could be very likely given the emphasis on social distancing. Having candid conversations about what this new normal could look like will be helpful. Remind your child that schools could close once more depending on the trend of the virus and then everyone would be back home for distance learning yet again.
Brainstorming ways to keep in touch with friends through social media is helpful. Setting up facetime chats, video game sessions and ample time to text and message back and forth will help them stay connected.
How do I keep my cool in front of my kid when I have so many stressful thoughts in my own head?
Often times children react to and follow adults' reactions. If you are truly struggling it's important to lean on your spouse/partner or seek professional help. Having some honest conversations about your nervousness in returning back to work can be validating for your child and may help in getting your child to open up about their own anxieties, but overall parents should try and maintain a calm and encouraging demeanor in front children.
Our wording is important as well. It's best to frame things positively by saying 'we're focusing on keeping ourselves healthy' instead of 'we need to avoid getting sick.'
What if my child asks me how long this will last?
Kids like things to be known and predictable and this pandemic is neither of those things. Be honest and say you don't know how long this illness will last. If you try to give it a timeline, kids will hold you to it and if it exceeds the timeline kids will be upset that you lied to them. The best thing you can do is stress that it won't last forever but that this is our situation for right now.
What other things can I be doing to make the back to school transition run smoothly?
I mentioned face coverings above, but it's also important to work with your child on proper handwashing techniques. Demonstrate how to wash between fingers, wrists, and their fingernails. Pick a song for them to sing while they do it so they're washing for the recommended 20 seconds.
Make sure your child is up to date on their immunizations and mark on your calendar now a reminder to get your family's flu shots in September/October. It won't be fun to deal with influenza on top of COVID-19.
Be sure to keep your employer in the loop about school plans and contingencies if schools shut down again. You don't want to be scrambling to figure out the details of having to work from home.
If you haven't already done so, have a plan in place if someone in the household needs to quarantine and what that will look like, how food/supplies/meds will be obtained, and the protocols for alerting others.
I hope this Q&A has helped you have a more organized mindset around preparing for the start of school and how you can best support your children. Please pass this along to other families who could benefit.
Here are some additional articles that might prove helpful:
Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19
Coronavirus And Parenting: What You Need To Know Now
School Decision-Making Tool for Parents, Caregivers, and Guardians
Ten things parents could and should do to help schools safely reopen