6 Quick Tips On How To Talk To Your Kids About Going To School During A Pandemic
Back-to-school prep is looking a little different this fall. As our children and teachers head back to school, we’re constantly asking “How do I talk to my kids about this?” We all feel the burden and stress of uncertainty this pandemic brings, and kids are not immune to those emotions. It is vital to have open, honest conversations. The more we talk about the new changes, the easier it will be for kids to adjust, be less afraid, and feel less stressed. Try out these six quick tips to help transition your kids back into school.
1. Assess What They Understand
Start by asking your kids what they think about the virus. Ask if they have any questions about it. You'll have a good understanding of what they do or don't know. Use this opportunity to fill in the gaps and answer any questions they may have. Try questions like:
“Are you excited to go back to school?”
“Are you nervous about any parts of going back to school?”
“Do you have any questions about what schools going to be like?”
2. Answer Their Questions Honestly
It’s important to be honest and open with your kids about the seriousness of Covid-19. Respond with age appropriate context and express the importance of listening to directions and following the rules to distance, wash hands, and wear masks. The clearer you can be with them, the less fearful and uncertain they have to be.
Dr. Maribel Del Rio-Roberts, a licensed Florida psychologist and associate professor at Nova Southeastern University says it’s important that parents and guardians begin preparing kids now. “Provide them with concrete information,” she said. “Reassure them, not dismissing their concerns or questions, but normalizing that, yes, this is different and it might be a little difficult.”
3. Give Them Alternatives For Normal Interactions
Communicate the new rules they’ll need to follow in classrooms, but provide alternatives for the daily interactions they were so used to having with classmates. Del Rio-Roberts suggests telling them:
“Although we know you love your friends and you miss your friends and you would love to show them how much you miss them ... it might be a better idea for now if we just wave at each other for now to say hello, or write a little note.”
"Mom and dad and teachers and all the adults are here to keep you safe, and one of the ways we can keep you and everyone else safe from the germs that are around us are by doing these little things.”
Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, director of psychology at John Hopkins All Children's Hospitals, encourages letting kids pick out their own masks. Try to use casual language — “keep an alligator between you and anyone else” — to encourage social distancing.
4. "We’re Doing This For The Safety Of Others"
Stress the importance of following these rules to help keep their friends and classmates safe. Dr Jerry Fletcher, a Child Adolescent Psychiatrist Ascension at St. Vincent, suggests communicating to kids:
“We wear the masks so we don't give problems to other people. We clean the surfaces and we clean our hands so we don't harm other people. It’s not that you don't have to be scared of getting that yourself, but you have to look at it as a positive way for other people. And kids will take that much better than they will being scared to doing the activities you want them to do."
5. Keep Open Conversation And Check In Often
Keep conversations open so kids can express any concerns. Ask often:
“How was your day?”
“What’s it like being back at school?”
Be sure to validate the feelings they experience. Dr. Fletcher explains “The important thing is to acknowledge the fear that the child has and to be able to process those fears regularly and continue to do that over time," Fletcher said. "You don't just have this discussion one time, it is something that has to evolve as the pandemic changes in terms of our adjustments to it. So repetitive discussions, discussions that are based on positives, discussions that give them the sense that lots of people are working on this issue, there are smart scientists that are trying to get a vaccination so it goes away. So it gives them the hope that things are going to be stable in the future, but in the meantime, do what you can to stabilize each day for them.”
We’re all facing adjustments because of the pandemic. If you start to see significant symptoms like lack of sleep, obsessive fears, not wanting to leave their parent's side, and/or depressive tendencies, it would be best to see a provider for evaluation.
6. Take Care Of Yourself
You cannot pour from an empty cup.
Your mental health as a parent is just as important as your child’s. It’s important to be there for your kids, but don’t neglect yourself. Needing help or asking for help doesn’t make you a bad parent. Taking care of yourself will actually make you a better one.
Be in tune to your own feelings. If you as a parent feel increased anxiety or depression, it may be best to see a provider for an evaluation, too.
Remember - it takes a village to raise a child. Use your resources and try to be a resource for other parents. If you feel like you or your child are struggling with mental health, seek help. Virtual providers are available 24/7 to consult with you.
Whether your village is online, inside a school, or at home, we’re all in this together (6 feet apart).
Do you have any tips for other parents on how to handle this transition? Leave a comment below!