By Jillian E. Gismondi MA LPC NCC
“I’m not going back to school?” “What about my friends?” “What about my DC trip?” “What about my project?” “What about field day?” “Do I still have to do homework?”
Thousands of parents throughout Metro Detroit have heard these words uttered by their children since Gov. Whitmer announced school would not reconvene for the remainder of the school year. While families are experiencing a collective level of anxiety, parents might be panicking a little more following these school closures and the impact they may have on their individual family unit.
The dilemma many parents have is “how do we respond to our children’s questions?” – which could be about the length of time they will be confined to their home, what will happen with schoolwork and when can their children see their friends. To be frank, as parents and residents of Michigan, the answer can seem daunting at times and ever changing. Parents are navigating uncharted territory and struggle with answers to these questions. Mothers and Fathers do not want to create more anxiety, yet they also want to provide their children with facts.
And sharing the facts will depend upon each individual child and how he or she receives information. It’s important to be mindful of a child’s age and maturity when providing information regarding COVID-19 and the impact it will have on his/her life. Once the child receives the information, it is recommended to take a step back and allow the child to mentally and emotionally process. The child may come back and ask clarifying questions in order to fully understand what has been told. A parent can also take the initiative and ask the child if he/she needs additional support. Because this is a new experience for the nation, there is no correct answer to provide your child. It is acceptable to be vulnerable and say, “I don’t have an answer.” This allows the child to understand that you are all experiencing the same anxieties and struggles during this uncertain time.
After the initial and potentially unwelcomed surprise settles in, it would be beneficial for the parent and child to have an open discussion about what the “new normal” will look like. Each family is unique, therefore, each “new normal” will be unique. However one characteristic that is similar throughout most of society is people thrive on some form of structure. If it is age appropriate, encourage your child to create how he/she would envision the days at home. Give the child space to express his/her feelings and motives for creating the schedule in a certain manner. Then as a parent, provide positive and negative feedback in order to allow the child to feel that he/she has some control and is gaining some mastery on his/her world.
Allow the child to have worked into the schedule time spent with friends. For many children, school is not only a source of knowledge but also his/her social outlet. Children have a reconstructed means of learning for the remainder of the year, yet, they must create for themselves a method to maintain friendships. Parents can support the importance of these friendships and the social education that is provided through the friendships.
The overarching message during this challenging time is to maintain open communication with your child. Remind him/her and yourself that this is a “new normal” and everyone is doing their job to navigate it in the way that works best for them. And finally, remain creative in finding solutions. You may create new habits that really do become your normal.
Jillian Gismondi M.A. is a staff therapist and professional development lead at Child and Family Solutions Center. She works with children, teens and adults. She is conducting teletherapy with her clients and is accepting new referrals. She can be reached at 248-851-5437 and Jillian@childfsc.com