When we think of back-to-school anxiety, it typically centers on elements like new routines, hectic schedules and whether our kids will find a friend. But those worries sound almost quaint, as we consider “back to school 2020.” In fact, just over 70% of parents said they saw either a large or moderate risk in sending kids back, according to one poll.
Of course, there are many communities where sending kids to in-person school isn’t even an option. But if you live in one of the areas where school is back in session, even partially or on a hybrid basis, it’s time to prepare your kids for a safe and healthy year.
Here are some particular considerations that parents need to know for kids of all ages.
Younger Kids/Elementary School
Don’t stand so close: Social distancing is tough on everyone, but certainly young kids who love to show their teachers and their buddies how much they’ve missed them with a big hug. That’s why it’s important to talk to them about appropriate distancing. One fun visual is using “airplane arms” where kids stick their arms straight out like airplane wings to maintain a healthy distance.
Practice wearing a mask: Now every day can be Halloween when kids wear their masks! At first they might be overly fidgety, but talk to your kids about why it’s important not to touch the mask in order not to transfer germs from their hands. Look online for fun prints and choose one that your kid loves, which can make them more likely to wear it. And of course, remind them never to trade masks.
Show them what other people look like wearing a mask: Children are still getting used to the sight of their loved ones covering up their smile. So talk to them about how their teachers and classmates will have a smile on underneath. Wear your own mask and practice different emotions to show them how a real smile will light up someone’s eyes.
Talk about sanitation: You’ve always reminded your kids to wash their hands, but now you have more of a reason than ever before. Show them how to “scrub,” not rinse, in order to really send those germs down the drain. Load them up with sanitizer they can keep in their pocket, bag and desk, and add sanitizer and wipes to their lunchbox along with your note of love.
Help them be self-sufficient: The less help they need from others, the less chance they will have of getting germs from someone touching their items or getting too close. So show them how to tie their shoes (or get Velcro ones), put on their coat and open all the items in their lunchbox so they can do it themselves.
Middle/High School Age
Find their pod: Kids this age have to be social for their mental health so encourage them to identify two or three friends who will be “their” posse for the time being—lunch companions, study buddies, etc. Then remind them that they can interact with everyone else as much as they want—but keep it virtual. In fact, you might consider relaxing some of your rules about social media and devices—within reason and your family comfort zone—so they can feel free to socialize in other ways than IRL.
Talk about personal space bubbles: Most of us saw frightening images of high school kids walking down clogged school corridors when some schools opened their doors this summer. Talk to your child about why that is dangerous these days—and encourage them to stay away from others as much as they can. If they want to post pictures on their social media, make them “selfies,” not group photos.
Encourage them to be selfish: Kids this age love to share makeup, drinks, even their phones. Talk to them about keeping their stuff to themselves, at least for now.
Remember sanitation: Yup, that’s a goal for everyone. Equip your teens with small bottles of hand sanitizer and packets of wipes so they are always at the ready. They might want a brand with a fun smell or shaped bottle so it can become part of their accessorizing. And remind them to wipe everything down (phones, computers, bags, etc.) when they come home from school.
Let them choose their mask: Just like the littles, masks can be an important form of self-expression, and they are more likely to wear one they have chosen themselves. Don’t balk if it’s a little more expensive if they promise to wear it. Think about the “cost per wear,” i.e. how much they will wear it compared to an item they don’t use as often.
Be a good role model: Teens are always watching you so make sure you are following all these same rules.
Give them a break: Older kids are mourning the loss of lots of things, from socializing with friends to potentially missing out on extracurricular activities that are important to them. Remember how big everything seems in these teen years—and that this actually IS big. So cut them some slack if their attitude isn’t as great as you would like.
Finally, for both groups: Watch your kids for signs of anxiety—it’s skyrocketing these days. They’re worried about their health and safety—and that of their family—as well as when the crisis might end and life will return to “normal.” Keep your own mental health top of mind, too, so you can be a calm resource. Stay open to hearing their worries and let them know you always have a listening ear for any troubles they want to share.
Actually, that’s good advice for everyone you come across in these troubled times.