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Worried About Sending Your Child Back to School?

Tips to help decrease stress while navigating the transition back to school.

Julia M. Cameron /Pexels
Social distance learning
Source: Julia M. Cameron /Pexels

As we come to the end of the 2019 school year — arguably the most unprecedented and challenging school year in modern times — the question on the minds of most parents and students is, “What’s to come for the next school year?”

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the landscape of American life, and our education system has been greatly impacted. In early spring 2019, classrooms, schools, and college campuses suddenly and unexpectedly closed. Distance learning is now the new normal for most students. For students afforded digital access, learning remotely includes virtual and online resources. Students on the other side of the digital divide continue learning with more traditional paper packet and text assignments.

Now, as the country begins the process of re-opening and relaxing restrictions on physical distancing, there are ongoing discussions and questions regarding what plans will be put into place for students for the new school year.

Will my child be returning to the classroom? Will it be safe? Will the school year resume with a traditional schedule?

Some schools and institutions of higher learning will continue distance learning curriculums; others will welcome students back to classrooms and campuses with the implementation of new safety measures. While both models have their own set of challenges, many parents have very legitimate concerns and worry about their child’s health and safety in a traditional classroom setting in the midst of this pandemic.

We offer these tips to parents about how to best help navigate the transition back to school so that you are less worried and better able to support your student.

Know the facts about COVID-19

Stay up to date and informed with factual information about COVID-19 in your county and city. Obtain accurate information regarding the novel coronavirus from credible resources.

Stay in the know regarding up-to-date announcements and plans for your child’s school

Regularly monitor communications from your child’s school regarding upcoming plans for the new school year (and summer class programs). Many schools and universities are making decisions as they receive up-to-date information from physicians, scientists, epidemiologists, and educators. Be patient and flexible, and model these qualities for your child. Oftentimes, worrying about the unknown creates more stress and anxiety.

Safety first; emphasize best practices for reducing infection risk

Emphasize the importance of safety measures at all times, whether at home or back at school. Students returning to class will likely be asked to wear masks, maintain social distancing, practice good hygiene, and take (or have taken) their temperature daily. Implementing these measures with your child while at home will help him to continue to use them when he returns to campus.

Assess your own feelings about your child’s return to school

Many parents may have a knee-jerk and immediate response to have their student continue to shelter in place until there is a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, until there are effective therapeutics, or until things just feel less crisis-ridden. Other parents feel ready to have their kids return as they realize that COVID has not impacted their area.

These are both very valid responses to this situation. Health and safety are extremely important. It is also helpful to consider and explore all of the key factors—safety measures which will be implemented at the physical school, the quality of the educational experience offered with distance learning curriculums, and the diminished in-person socialization (and social isolation) in the absence of the traditional school setting.

Determine if your child is ready to go back to school

If your child is mature enough to weigh in on this matter, explore his or her thoughts. Many students not only report that they miss the regular, daily contact with friends and teachers but they also much prefer the traditional learning models. Overwhelmingly, most students express that they want to return to school campuses. Some students, however, are dealing with pandemic-associated clinical anxiety and have great concern about leaving home and returning to school. If there is a concern for significant anxiety, seek professional help.

Come up with a Plan B

Discuss a plan and also a back-up plan. If you decide to send your child back to class, what will be the plan if school doors unexpectedly close again in the fall? If you decide to keep your child home and assist with distance learning assignments and you are required to return to the office in the fall, who will be available during the school day to assist your student with distance learning? Having a couple of well-thought-out plans can help to reduce anxiety and worry.

Be informed regarding your student’s rights

Review your state and federal guidelines and laws regarding absenteeism and a failure to attend school in the midst of a pandemic. Should your child not return to school if it reopens, is continued distance learning permissible? Are extenuating circumstances required? Is home-based instruction an option? These are important questions to consider prior to the start of the new school year.

Actively manage your own emotional health

Practice self-care (mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, adequate sleep). It is important to realize the difference between normal worry and valid concerns versus anxiety that is problematic. If you are worrying excessively or unable to control the worries that you have regarding your child returning to school, we recommend that you seek help from a medical professional. How you manage your anxiety impacts the emotional health and wellness of your child. You are your child’s most important role model. They are watching how you manage stress.

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