Remember when back to school was so simple? When you actually could send kids to school. When, “Remember your mask, sweetie!” was only uttered on Halloween.
I struggle with this time every year, so I spoke with a range of experts to help you (and me) send (or not send) your kids back to school without stressing yourself, or your kids, out.
First, a disclaimer, courtesy of Dr. Nicole Avena, scientist and professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Princeton University, “There is no right, or wrong, way to do this,” she says. So, ignore the parenting shammer, certain they know the best path. Sorry, Mrs. (or Mr.) Know It All, “There is risk with every decision,” whether you’re sending your kids to school or keeping them home, says Dr. Linda McWhorter, psychologist and Director of the Widener Child Therapy Clinic.
“It’s also okay to be nervous,” says Dr. Stacy Haynes, family psychologist and founder of Little Hands Family Services. The goal isn’t to be stress free, but to “manage the uncertainty with less anxiety and accept the uncertainty,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and podcast host of “Personology.”
Here are tips to manage the uncertainty… and the kids.
KIDS ARE RESILIENT
“Kids are pretty amazing,” says Brandi Davis, parenting consultant and founder of Your Parenting Partner. “Kids are so adaptable and they go with the flow,” she adds.
If your kids are nervous, “give them practical and concrete things they can do,” to help mitigate their stress, says McWhorter. For instance, if they are nervous about getting sick at school, equip them with cleaning practices and supplies to give them more control. For younger children, check out this workbook about dealing with the coronavirus The Oyster and the Butterfly.
Nervous about virtual learning? See if the school can give you a test run of the system or do some zoom practice sessions with friends or family.
Takeaway: Kids are adaptable, so trust your kids to find a way through this.
KEEP CALM AND PARENT ON
The experts highlight parents should be mindful of their own stress and attitude. “Stay really positive, because as a parent you set the tone,” says McWhorter.
“By keeping your emotions in check and remaining calm you provide children with a safe place to explore their own emotions and concerns,” says Debbie Lopez, Community Outreach Director for Zivadream, teacher and stress management coach.
“You don’t want to say it will be all doom and gloom. Instill some hope,” says Dr. Tichianaa Armah, psychiatrist and Medical Director and Vice President of Behavioral Health at Community Health Center. She recommends sharing stories of hard times your family has gotten through or details of past epidemics to illustrate people have been through this before.
“It is also really important to build in time for some family fun,” says McWhorter, even if it is for just five minutes. So tell jokes, have a dance party in the kitchen, and for younger kids check out Go Noodle.
Takeaway: Setting a calm, positive environment will help you, and your kids, power through.
IDENTIFY STRESSORS AND FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
“Make a list and delineate what you feel most anxious about, to be more accepting of the situation and ask, ‘How do I make this good?’” suggests Saltz. Tameka Anderson, parenting expert and author, also recommends “checking in with yourself,” so that you can be proactive and start problem solving for some of your concerns.
It’s also helpful to focus on what you can control. To keep calm, put the breaks on using phrases like, “in these uncertain times,” says Avena. There are things that we can control and that are certain. “We are certain that we love our kids,” she offers. Identify what else is in your control and what is certain in your particular situation, Avena suggests.
“The thing that will chill people out the most is getting information,” says Davis. So ask the school the questions that will put you and your kids at ease.
Takeaway: Address your concerns and fears, to solve for some of your worries.
“The second wave of this pandemic is stress,” says Avena. “There are a lot of people hell bent on focusing on the negative,” she says. “But, we need to talk about the positive,” to help us all deal with the stress, she explains. So yes, the situation could get worse, but it could also improve dramatically. “We just have to keep our heads up!” according to Avena. And maybe not watch the news too much, recommends Davis.
“We have to make room for uncertainty,” explains McWhorter, but we also have to make room for each other. “We have to give each other a little grace,” and give ourselves some compassion, because we are all going to find different ways through this. But we’ll get through it!
A version of this story originally ran in HerMoney here https://www.hermoney.com/connect/motherhood/how-to-handle-back-to-school-stress-during-a-pandemic/. Thank you to HerMoney!