Back-to-school typically brings about a mix of excitement and anxiety, but an international pandemic has entirely changed expectations for school. Many parents wonder, “Will my child be safe? Will my child fall behind? How will I juggle work and schooling my child if the school goes virtual?”
You're not alone — millions of parents are also feeling insecure about having the skills needed to provide quality education to their child. Let's break things down and find ways to help you feel more in control of back-to-school COVID chaos and bring back a sense of balance and normalcy.
Evaluate and Assess the Situation
Every family is unique, and priorities can depend on the situation. Start with the basics and evaluate your family's needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow is well-known for his focus on the psychology of human needs. His hierarchy of needs is a universal standard for evaluating human survival.
Using his model, move up the hierarchy and gauge your needs. Ask yourself: Do you have food, clothing, shelter? If basic survival is your focus, put your energy into acquiring food, housing support, and make sure you are maintaining medical care, such as medications.
Don't hesitate to reach out to your child's school for help — they have many resources, especially during COVID. Many schools can provide support with meals or food.
If your family’s basic human needs are accounted for, you can direct more attention to academics, online socializing, hobbies, and other pertinent childhood considerations.
Start With a Plan
Once your basic needs are met, figure out a plan for the new school year. Some schools may have already provided details. Other schools are still in a holding pattern or may have previously provided plans, only to suddenly change them to accommodate CDC guidelines or state mandates.
In these situations, start with what you can control. For most families, there are choices between online charter schools, public schools, and homeschooling. Some public school districts offer their versions of online school or a hybrid of online and a few days in person. The options available to you may depend on your local COVID numbers.
Homeschooling families benefit from normalcy in that their curriculum includes working at home and in the community. Their COVID focus may be on how to navigate questions and concerns children have about the pandemic.
Some families are grappling with the idea of homeschooling for the first time due to COVID. Homeschooling has recently become a more popular choice, especially with children whose needs are not capable of being met at school. There could be medical issues, physical disabilities, or even emotional/behavioral health concerns. Research by investigating local parent homeschool groups or perusing the internet for local resources and support. Homeschoolers can also become part of co-ops where parents take turns teaching, using their individual strengths.
For public schools, reach out to the district for local re-opening plans and evaluate your comfort level with the proposed strategies. Ask questions and learn about ways to support the school and your child. Ask about accommodations, if needed, and how to ensure your child's needs are being promoted. This issue is especially important for children on IEPs and 504 plans. If your child receives special services outside of school, invite counselors, occupational and physical therapists, and speech pathologists into meetings with the school to wrap around care for your child. Collaborate with your child's team to find ways to make the most of current situations.
While the unknown can be scary for a parent, it is likely more so for the child. Children look to parents for guidance and stability. Use this time to create regular moments to communicate with your child. Ask children about their fears. It's easy to assume your concerns are theirs, but children are resilient — children will keep on keepin’ on.
Communication also includes observing. Take note of changes in your child's behaviors. Investigate triggers for new behaviors. Triggers are environmental factors that cause reactions. These can include things like changes in schedules and routines. Work with your child and the adults in their life to create interventions for supporting them.
Create routines and structures incorporating regular communication with your child. Focus on helping children know they are safe and that parents work to maintain that security. Even if the plan is unknown, the child will know they are being cared for, regardless of the next steps. Maintain normalcy through the mundane by highlighting things like playtime, dinner time, and bedtime. The Positivity & Connection Kit PDF (ages 5-12) is a collection of printable worksheets, games, activities, and coloring sheets for kids to promote a positive attitude and strengthen their connection with others. A perfect way to bolster communication within your family.
In language appropriate to the child's age, explain they are safe, and show them how they are safe. Simple things like modeling necessary hand washing give children power. If wearing face masks causes concern, practice at home and make a game of it. Connect it to dress-up, or Halloween costumes if your family celebrates. Show doctors, nurses, and other well-known professionals, or even child-friendly icons, like superheroes, wearing masks.
Parents who are separated or divorced should work even more on stable co-parenting. Now is the time to use each other for support and ensure your child gets the level of care and support necessary for health and wellness. Reach out to your extended family as well, even family who may not be physically available due to COVID. Using Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and other online conferencing can allow tired parents to rest as your child enjoys some time with a favorite auntie, grandparent, or another parent.
Family Emotional Regulation
Children are the world's best modelers. They mimic so much of what they see, not just with peers, but especially their caregivers. On an emotional level, children sense fear, frustration, hostility, and anger. However, they also sense, calm, happiness, contentment, and joy. Caregivers must find their balance as much as possible to help put their children at ease.
Look for a modality that brings calm like meditation or yoga. There are many apps and online videos made for children, teaching them these skills. Take some time and enjoy doing yoga with your child. Add some guided meditation or mindfulness activities before bedtime or upon awakening.
Even a few minutes of deep breathing can help lower parental stress, which trickles down to children. Breathing activities help create a calmer home. It also models self-regulation, a vital skill preparing children for school and carrying into their adult life.
The Gratitude & Mindfulness Kit PDF (ages 5-12) contains fun and engaging activities to help children focus on the positive, express gratitude, and more.
Don't suffer alone. Don't be afraid to reach out. Make the most of these uncertain times by connecting with parent groups to learn from one another and have a place to discuss concerns. With this pandemic, you will find other parents struggling with issues that matter to you. Be sure to check our free, private community, Raising Kids with a Growth Mindset, too!
The COVID pandemic has caused much uncertainty and fears to time already full of change and anxiety. By helping your children know what is guaranteed, what is planned, and showing them ways to deal with stress, your child will have the ability to navigate whatever is asked of them. And you will be able to maintain some sense of normalcy and balance even wading through all the unknowns.
About the Author — Vivian Nelson Melle
Vivian Nelson Melle is a bilingual Master's level Community Counselor and Certified Clinician Trauma Specialist. Before counseling, Vivian was a cross-category special education educator, specializing in early childhood populations. Vivian enjoys helping children and families find balance amid all the chaos and hope in the darkness. She believes in nourishing children's passions as soon as they ignite.