5 Phrases to Say to Your Anxious Child About Schools Reopening
Back-to-school has never felt so fraught with emotion and uncertainty thanks to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. As parents, we feel the swing of sanity as it rests upon surges of fear, hope, and anxiety connected with the news and the reopening plans of schools coming to fruition. None of this is lost upon our children no matter what their ages. They already know that regardless of the model of schooling they will enter into at the start of this school year, things will be different. Aside from the fact that we are all still living within the realm of a global pandemic, this difference factor alone will be enough to create anxiety for even the least anxious of children as they face the reopening of schools.
Fortunately, as parents, we have the opportunity to both model healthy ways of responding to the anxiety and uncertainties related to school reopening, as well as the chance to help our children through the emotions of this process as we do the same for ourselves. Here are five phrases you can say to your anxious child about schools reopening.
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1. “It is okay to feel the way you do.”
No matter what kind of feelings your child expresses related to school reopening, it is important that you validate those feelings. There truly are no feelings that are not appropriate or valid as we all face something that no one has gone through before. The feelings your child might express can range from anger to grief to anxiety to hope. Make sure your little one knows that she is not alone in feeling what she does, and that her feelings are a normal and healthy way to respond to a new and uncertain start.
2. “You are not alone.”
Having faced elements of physical and social isolation and distance over the majority of this year, it is easy for a child - and anyone for that matter - to feel alone as they approach this school reopening milestone. It is important to remind children that they are not alone, and that they have teams of people invested in their safety, wellness, and happiness. Considering your child’s age and awareness of some of the processes related to reopening, be sure to keep naming who is there for them and who is working hard on their behalf to make sure they have the best back to school experience possible. These names could be those of family members, teachers, principals, community members, friends, or even names familiar to children at the state or national level. The thing to emphasize is simply that they are not alone and have teams of people there to help school be the best possible place for them.
3. “You always have choices.”
With added safety protocols, new routines, and different processes, children may feel and fear that they do not have much choice in their experience. Although it’s very important to ensure that children understand the importance of following protocols related to their safety and well-being, we should also make sure children are actively presented with opportunities to make choices too. They need to feel like their opinion matters and that they still have some control over this uncertain world. No matter how small a choice, if you have the opportunity to let them choose anything within the course of their days, be sure to provide them with the chance to do so.
4. “Find the good.”
This is a practice that is as important for parents as it is for students. It is not hard to find negativity and challenge these days. It takes practice and attention to find the positivity and the good. Once you begin to practice this process as a family, you will all naturally begin to find the pluses in every situation. Is your child learning from home today? How exciting that her pets can attend school with her. Is your child back in the school building today? How fun that you can see so many friends in person! Is your child learning outside? What a special opportunity to learn in the midst of nature!
5. “Let’s keep an open mind.”
If there is one thing for certain this school year, it is the fact that nothing is certain. The more your children can understand the importance of having an open and flexible mind, the better. This is not easy as many children thrive on routine and predictability, but working together to look at how each member of your family faced an unexpected challenge or twist in their lives that week or month, is part of important family dialogue. Change should not be presented as negative or insurmountable. We all have the ability to adapt and grow despite the challenges. Celebrating small adaptations and openness to new things is important. Not only will it help your children thrive during this back to school season, it will also help them develop an invaluable life skill that will help them throughout their entire lives.
Check out our Coronavirus Resource Center for more helpful information regarding COVID-19 and your family.