By Paul Bernstein, L.M.S.W.
As I met with many of my clients’ parents this summer, I was often approached with the question, “Is it good to tell our children about the possibility of school being online in the Fall?”. The answer in my professional opinion is often yes. People crave routine and predictability. In this new world of COVID, that need has been disrupted and has left people with an added level of uncertainty and heightened anxiety.
Children, like adults, need to be prepared for change. The more aware a person is for future possibilities, the less anxiety they will feel as they can prepare for more potential outcomes. Imagine being told that your company may be moving to another state. What if you were told six months before the company knew whether they would stay or go? Not ideal, but you would have time to prepare for the possibility. Now imagine if, without warning, you were told one week prior that your company was definitely moving out of state. Anxiety would surely increase with less warning and time to prepare. This would be expected.
With the immediate future of schools so uncertain, I recommend that you share with your children the possibilities. This is not just for the start of school in the fall, but for what may occur later in the fall, the winter and even into the spring. With that, you can than start looking together at how to make the best of the potential options. How and where will your child be taught? If at school, how can you help them feel safe? If at home, how can you help them feel less alone and supported? What will happen with school sports and if they are cancelled, how can you help your child stay active?
Don’t stop there. By developing a list of possible paths and the actions that you will take to support your child, you will help to reduce their anxiety. Now add some knowns that will exist regardless of the path school will take. Make sure there is a routine at bedtime, and that bedtime itself stays consistent. Have set activities that your child can count on without fail: Every school day, a snack at 3:30pm, walk the dog at 4pm, homework at 4:30pm, and dinner at 6pm. Saturday morning pancakes, Sunday afternoon boardgames, and snuggles on the coach during your favorite show on Thursday evenings. These routines, whether they be fun or work, help our children feel more at ease. By providing these certainties, you make them feel safer.
So, if your child asks you what is happening with their school, tell them what you know and what you don’t. Tell them of the possible changes that may occur. Listen to their questions and concerns. Then sit down with them and make those plans. These preparations will help to ease anxiety for both you and your child as they will then feel more prepared for a world of unknowns.