August 31, 2020
Going back to school has always been anxiety provoking for most students and families. Students have been away from school for months, and away from the routines and structures that school provides. Now, imagine not going back to school in the same manner students have have before due to a pandemic. Students and their families are experiencing this right now. School will look different this year, at least for now. Students will not be welcomed in school the same way they have in the past. Families will have to adjust their own schedules in order to accommodate these changes. How we as parents navigate this will impact our children.
Parents will need to model confidence, create a new structure with how school will look, and get to know the new teacher behind a computer screen. Having lines of communication with your children will be very important. Allow them to be scared, feel apprehension and even fear. You can ease your child’s anxiety by modeling confidence and calm behavior, and by imposing structure in family life (mealtime, homework, and bedtime routines). Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just momentarily unsettling for children. Kids look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations, and there is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves.
The other major key to success in school this year is to get to know your kid’s teacher. With Covid-19 this might look different. I would recommend setting up a phone conversation or schooling. Parents can get all kinds of information about their child from a teacher. Information like anxiety, learning difficulties, peer issues, academic achievement, just to name a few. Teachers are our greatest allies – I recommend that you always have a good line of communication with them.
A routine around the work space is very important as well. Create a space in your home that is the “school space” – a structured environment where “school” takes place. A good routine will start with a clean area in your home. Think about the space that teachers provide for students when they enter the classroom: it is organized and structured. Do your best to recreate this for your child. You will be able to observe your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses this way while also reinforcing good study habits. Be positive and encouraging.
We know, for now, most schools will be virtual – where students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes. Schools might have a hybrid model, or a mix of virtual learning and in-class learning. I believe more schools in Oregon will begin virtual-only, and as infection rates continue to drop, they will eventually become a hybrid model. Promising vaccine trials will become available hopefully early next year, and if that is the case, students might be able to end the school year in their schools.
All of this will look very different for each family. Structure, organization, and parent confidence that it will all work out will be essential to your child’s success this year. Allow the open communication between you and your child to begin, if it has not already begun. Kids are scared! This pandemic has shattered our “normal.” Allow kids to be scared. If you need them to see a mental health counselor, offer it as another tool they might need for their success, rather than using counseling as a punishment or something negative. Normalize mental health, as you would a medical appointment. Kids may not want to need to talk about their feelings with a mental health therapist. If this is the case, make an appointment for an assessment. One thing is for sure: this is a great deal to unpack as we prepare for school this year. A mental health provider is available if you and your family need greater support.
We at The Northwest Catholic Counseling Center (NCC) are here for you. Call us at 503-253-0964 to learn more about our services, and complete a short intake over the phone today!
– Marti Diaz-Domm, MA, M.Ed.