Dealing with the Uncertainty of Schools Re-Opening

Since the severity of coronavirus was acknowledged and restrictions were put in place, the lockdown has given us and our families a layer of security. We had some control over leaving the house, where we went and with whom we had contact. For many, our children were homeschooled in environments that we knew were safe for them. While we’ve all been waiting for the news that things would be starting to return to normal, now that talk of schools re-opening is occurring, anxiety amongst parents, teachers, and students is on the rise.

Recently, it was announced that schools could begin to reopen, but in ways that we’ve never seen before. Parents are now faced with the difficult decision of either sending their children to school in an environment that they have no real control over or keeping them at home and delaying the inevitable. What makes this even more tricky to navigate is that not all schools will be able to adhere to all of the guidance and the decision of what rules to follow and how to do so will be left up to individual schools. This creates additional uncertainty when knowing what to expect when sending our children back to school.

Recommendations put forth by NJ Governor Murphy include:

  • Children are to stay 6 feet apart both in the classroom and on the bus
  • Breaks, including lunch, will be staggered to limit the number of students at a time
  • Teacher, staff, and visitors should wear face masks at all times
  • Students will be encouraged to wear face protection especially when unable to keep to the 6ft rule (, 2020)

It is also recommended for schools to arrange some sort of screening to test staff and students for the virus. While this all seems ideal on paper, we all know that when working with children, the ideal often does not materialize. For parents with young children, it is nerve-racking to think that young children will be expected to understand the need to stay away from each other and have to process the unnatural sight of seeing their teachers in masks and possibly face shields. 

Those with older children and teenagers are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact lockdown and re-opening of schools is having on their wellbeing. With the advice of the medical community stressing the need to wear masks and socially distance to best protect ourselves from the virus, some older children are becoming overwhelmed at the thought of having to return to school. 

Professional advice to those who are apprehensive about sending their children back to brick and mortar school: ultimately it is your choice. Some parents will feel that sending their children back to school is the best option, others will feel uncomfortable and opt for virtual remote learning or homeschooling instead. Either choice a family makes is OK, especially during these unprecedented times.

Here are a few practical ways that can help get past the uncertainty and make a decision in your family's best interest. 

Try to take into consideration all angles:

  • Find out what your school is making mandatory for staff and students.
  • Does this align with what you feel would keep your child safe? 
  • If your child is older, speak to them about how they feel about going back. 
  • Be aware of any spikes or high number of confirmed cases in your area and use this to guide your decision about sending children back to school.

Parents, when your school announces specific plans for the fall, it is expected that aspects of these plans may be upsetting. It is important to remember that your child’s attitude towards returning to school will be directly impacted by the message that they hear from you. Discuss your frustrations, anger, and sadness away from your children. Set your children up for success by highlighting the positives of the decision you have made in your family’s best interest. Children benefit when parents act as sounding boards for their worries and disappointments. While holding our children’s difficult emotions during this uncertain time, we can also model perseverance and positive thinking.  

Mindfulness is one tool in positive psychology that can help improve people's well-being and can be practiced by parents and children alike. The exercise of quiet breathing and focusing on the present moment has been found to help individuals cope with anxiety and stress. This practice can be a useful tool that you and your family can adopt to find a sense of calm amidst all of the uncertainty.

Written by Amy DeLuca Litkey, LCSW

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