In a typical year, August is a month of the summer sun, vacation, and the impending start of another school year.
Not this year.
COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our day-to-day lives, impacting everything from work to how we shop to how we spend time together. The impact that COVID-19 will have on parents and school-age children is on the horizon as we prepare for the start of the school year.
Last spring marked the first time in public education in the US that schools were shut down amid a pandemic. Most schools were ill-prepared for the situation and cobbled together a plan that involved students doing self-paced learning at home, typically with their parents being the proctors of their progress. In some cases, there were opportunities made available for students to get help and further their learning. Yet, most schools just limped through the end of the semester with students completing a minimal amount of schoolwork in order to pass.
This fall is shaping up to look very different. Given the extended amount of time that the school has had with the summer break, schools are seemingly better prepared. Everything from having policies for supporting social distancing in the classroom to spread out seating on busses is being implemented. Additionally, most school districts are implementing a distance learning option for families that are still feeling apprehensive about sending their children back to a physical school building.
All of these modifications should provide for a safe and effective return to the education environment. But what if they are not?
Anxiety on both the parent level as well as the student level is very real and becoming much more prominent as we get closer to the start of the school year. Here are some thoughts about how to cope with this anxiety and to address the anxiety in a child.
- Gather the facts – When struggling with the uncertainty of a situation, the first step is to try to educate yourself on the facts of the situation. If you are unsure about the steps being taken by your district, reach out to the individual or team that is in charge of the response. Most districts have assigned a principal or assistant superintendent to that roll and their sole responsibility is to enact the plan. If you are unsure about the guidelines for state and federal response, consult the
CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/prepare-safe-return.html
Or the PA Department of Health website: Safe schools Emergency Planning – COVID-19
- Evaluate your options – If you speak with the school district and don’t feel comfortable with the return to the physical building you can consider the “at home” option for educating your child or consider the alternative schooling options available. Most districts are offering an at-home option or a “hybrid” option that includes students begin educated by district teachers in a virtual setting. Additionally, Pennsylvania has several cyber charter schools available that meet the state-required education standards. It is also possible to transfer back to the regular public school if the circumstances change and your child would like to return to the building.
- Have confidence in your decision – There are no right or wrong answers. We are all doing the best that we can with the information that we have, and the impact that we believe that this will have on our health, education, and well-being. You know your child and family best. Perhaps your child suffers from a chronic medical condition, or you reside with an elderly relative. The decision that you make will be right for your family and remember you can always adjust to meet the ever-changing circumstances. Avoid critical conversations on social media posts about your decisions, as this will only act to increase anxiety.
- Talk about your feelings – If you are struggling with your emotions around the decision, speak with someone you trust (a partner, a friend, another parent in the district, a professional, etc.). Sometimes talking about your feelings helps relieve the tension. This holds true for children as well. Speak with them about their understanding of the circumstances with returning to school and their thoughts about the situation. Also, ask them if there is anything they are afraid of in returning to the school building. Ask them if they understand the importance of taking precautions such as face coverings, washing hands, social distancing, etc.
- Acknowledge – Finally, acknowledge that the situation is fluid and we are doing the best we can with the information that we have – As we have seen throughout this pandemic, information is coming at us so fast that we barely have time to digest the facts before new facts are presented. Reclaiming some control over your personal narrative does provide for some peace of mind and reduction in the sense of being out of control.
Overall, if you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety around this or any circumstance associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, reach out to the EAP; we are here to help! We are able to provide you with support through telehealth services that you can access from the comfort and safety of your own home.