We hear the government talking about reopening the economy and also reopening schools. However, since there is still a lot we have to learn about the Coronavirus, we do not know exactly how school should reopen and when. There has been discussions about options, but no one can make a firm decision yet. Therefore, we have to wait to find out how and when schools will reopen. Since there is no definite plan yet, this creates anxiety in children and parents.
Many of the children and teenagers, I treat, are asking about returning to school and what changes are going to be made at school. When I tell them that there is no definite plan yet, they are not surprised but you can also hear the anxiety it their voices. We have to remember that these kids have been living under quarantine orders for over 2 months now. Also during that time there have been few concrete answers for these children about the virus or returning to school. Furthermore, before the quarantine, these children were dealing with mass shootings on a daily basis and mass shooting drills. This was another situation they had to endure with no reasons as to why the shootings were occurring or when they would stop. Therefore, we have an entire generation of children and teenagers who have had to adjust to living with uncertainty about their safety.
Many parents are wondering how to handle this uncertainty about returning to school. Well one thing we can do to help children and teenagers is to validate their feelings. Instead of just telling them everything will be alright. We need to acknowledge that it makes sense that they are feeling anxious and uncertain about the future and going back to school. We have no answers and it’s natural to be anxious under the present situation. Therefore, instead of telling them their feelings are wrong or they are over reacting, validate their feelings. This will help them cope with their feelings and help them not to feel like they are crazy for feeling the way they do.
Also explain to children and teenagers that we are living in historic times. Inform them that the last time there was a pandemic was 100 years ago. We did survive that pandemic and we will find away to survive this one. It may take sometime but we will find a solution. However, while we are looking for answers, they are living history. When they are older and their grandchildren ask about the Coronavirus pandemic, they will be able to provide first hand answers because they lived through the pandemic. This may help with the uncertainty and provide your child with a different perspective they can use as they view the current situation.
Also reassure them that you know while we search for answers that this can be scary and confusing, but as their parent you are going to watch out for them. As soon as you hear news about what the plans are for school, you will share the information with them. Also reassure them you will not place them in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. If you do not feel comfortable with the plans for returning to school, you will look at alternatives such as home schooling. Remind them that as their parents you can make different plans for them if needed.
However, while we wait for the plans assure them it’s okay to feel anxious or nervous. Also let them know you want them to share their feelings with you so you can help. There is no reason to be embarrassed about the feelings they are having or needing to talk about the feelings. Also explain you understand that sometimes it’s hard to talk to your parents about certain feelings. Reassure them that if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you that you will understand and make arrangements for them to talk to someone where they will feel safe.
The most important thing to remind children is they have been living with a great deal of anxiety and fear for a long time. Therefore, it’s only natural that they may need to talk about their feelings. It’s normal and a healthy thing to do and you are there as their parent to help them in any way they need.
Another thing that can help is to encourage your child to talk to their friends and their feelings too. They can use FaceTime or Zoom. By sharing their thoughts and feelings with their friends about returning to school, they will see they are not alone. Hearing that their friends have similar feelings can help them relax and not feel so strange about their feelings. It is also an excellent support group for them. If they start talking now about their feelings, it will make it easier to talk about their feelings as they get older and life gets more complicated. Also by talking about their feelings, it also hopefully keep the door open so they continue to talk to you too.
The idea of returning to school will create anxiety when they think about having to wear a mask and other possible changes. However, if we acknowledge the anxiety is legitimate and if we attempt to work with the children and their feelings, they should have less anxiety and an easier transition back to the new normal for schools.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about Dr. Rubino please visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.