Healthy Ways to Go Back to School
This year, going back to school represents new challenges for families because of the novel COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a lot of prognostication about the potential long-lasting harmful effects of this period of students learning in a variety of creative ways. No doomsday scenarios have to come true, however. First, it does not matter what happens with formal structures if families (with community support) commit to our children’s success. If this happens, our children will learn and thrive.
So, remember that children can learn in any number of environments. School is just one place for learning. Children can learn at home, on the computer, with their peers or their parents, and in so many other ways. If we can keep our focus on the learning and not the structure of where that learning happens, our children will read. For African Americans and other families who have had to overcome structural barriers to formal schooling, remember that learning occurred even under the harshest conditions.
Keeping with this thread, giving our children access to play, art, music, physical activity, and things that they can master might be as important for their health, mental health, and wellness as anything else we could provide for them. And there are a lot of ways that those full sensory and hands-on experiences can occur. Play matters, especially for children under 10. All children need time outside to unplug from technology, time with family, and time to create.
1. Talk to your children often. Whenever possible, ask them how they feel about returning back to school. Keep an open door so that they can share any worries that might emerge. They may have needs, wants, and fears that are not aligned with yours or your family’s priorities. For example, you might need to send your child to school or a daycare because you need to work or for some other practical reason, and your child might have fears about that decision. Try to explain – not justify – you’re thinking and decision making. But providing relevant, developmentally appropriate, and concrete information helps.
2. Make time for them to share their stressors and worries. Also, pay attention to the behavioral signs of worry: not wanting to go to school and unexplained physical symptoms like headaches, upset stomachs, and unexpected pains. This is important for a few reasons: first, our bodies will often provide early warning signals of stress and distress. Unfortunately, in the time of COVID, some of those could also be symptoms of COVID. Treat all physical health issues seriously. But, if you find that they are anxiety-related, help your child learn to cope with their anxious feelings.
3. Watch what you feed them – and I am not just talking about food. Pay attention to how much news, how much worry, and the kinds of information you share. While being informed is helpful and a way of helping you feel empowered, too much of anything is never helpful. We also know that our children are watching, even when we are not paying attention.
4. Create consistency as much as possible – but be flexible. Whether kids are physically in a school building, learning at home, or engaging in some sort of hybrid model, do your best to create a schedule and a routine. If you can, put that calendar or schedule someplace where everyone in the family can see it and be aware of it. This is especially important for children who are struggling. Helping children understand, plan for, and prepare for transition can help them feel more emotionally and physically safe.
I could share more, but if you want to keep learning, I encourage you to use the following resources:
§ The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a comprehensive list of resources that everyone should check out: https://adaa.org/finding-help/blackcommunitymentalhealth
§ If you are parenting a child who has presented with the signs or symptoms of attention deficit disorder, Attitude has offered a number of free resources and supports for families: https://www.additudemag.com/
§ Finally, the Health Schools Campaign has a comprehensive list of resources for families, especially families navigating through COVID: https://healthyschoolscampaign.org/resources/covid-19-resource-hub/
COVID-19 is affecting families in any number of ways. If we work collectively to support each other, we can weather these transitions and come out stronger. As always please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit me at meridiankconsulting.com. I would love to hear from you!