Submitted by Ellyn Conhartoski, M.Ed, LPC-IT
As a new school year draws near, parents, teachers, and students are anxious, scared, nervous, and confused. Many questions and fears linger without clear answers. The new normal of COVID-19 has meant adapting to the lifestyle changes and managing the fear and anxiety of potentially contracting or spreading the virus. There is also the fear that we may expose the virus to people close to us who are more vulnerable. Parents and students may start to feel paranoid and anxious about the upcoming questions they seek, such as: Is my school safe? Will my child be exposed to the Coronavirus? Will my child have to wear a mask all day? Is my school taking adequate steps to ensure the safety of staff and students? This pandemic has changed the lives of communities across the Nation and will be with us for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, here are some steps parents and primary caregivers can take to help their children and themselves cope with the potential new norms of the 2020-2021 school year.
- Talk to your children. Chances are they have already heard something about the global pandemic. Silence and secrets do not protect our children. Honesty and openness do. Think about how much they will understand, and be open to talking about this piece of their history with them in a way that they will appreciate.
- Minimize their newsfeeds. Consume the news in moderation. While it is essential to stay informed and up to date on the latest Coronavirus information, too much information adds to our stress levels. The repetitive nature of the news reports is not suitable for our mental health.
- Practice wearing a face mask with your child, incorporating them on their favorite stuffed animal, or toy can bring some normalcy to the act for them.
- Teach and enforce healthy hygiene practices such as hand washing, hand sanitizing, and wearing a face mask before school starts. Practicing this can be done before meals and throughout the day after playing outside or doing other activities.
- Teach your child to practice social distancing. Teach them about personal space and not entering others or having others enter theirs.
- With younger children, teach proper coughing and sneezing techniques and the use and disposal of Kleenex.
- Teach your child to keep their possessions (pencils, markers, etc.) to themselves. This will be hard as a child is innately taught to share but talk and explain the importance during this time and reinforce that your child should let the teacher know if another student needs materials.
- Teach your child to be resilient. Remember that you as a primary caregiver help determine your child’s attitude. Set them up for success by teaching them to make the best of this situation. Resilience is accepting your new reality, and modeling perseverance.
Finally, ask local school officials and staff questions about the cleaning and sanitary practices at the school. Advocate for your mental health by seeking out answers to your questions and worries. Your local school district and leaders want schools to reopen, and they also want a return to in-person school learning. However, this must be done safely, and we, as a community, must work together for the health and safety of all. This pandemic and our response to it is a community-building opportunity. We all need to come together and support each other for the sake of everyone in our community.
Most importantly, know that feeling anxious during a global pandemic is an entirely normal response to the stress. Should the pressure be too much for you to take, please seek professional help for yourself, if necessary. We have faced other difficult times as a community and a nation, and with proper care, we will all get through this too.
Ellyn Conhartoski, M.Ed, LPC-IT is a Behavioral Health Therapist at NorthLakes Community Clinic – Iron River. If you or someone you know could benefit from therapy, please give the clinic a call to establish care either in-person at one of our clinics or virtually: (715) 372-5001