By Christine Weinzapfel Hayden, LCSW
Advice from YouthFirst
We have heard so much about the “new normal” over the last few months – but what is that? How are we supposed to make plans for the future when we don’t yet know what that looks like? On top of that, how are we supposed to prepare our kids for this new normal? There are no perfect answers to any of these questions because we’re still being met with more questions than answers. So instead of focusing on the unknown, the best way to move forward is preparing ourselves for the things we do know.
We know that, as of right now, schools are planning to open in the coming weeks. This is great news for our kids who have been missing their social interactions. However, we also know that it won’t look exactly the same as they’re used to. The CDC guidelines are intense and, some would argue, unrealistic; however, they’re a great guide for conversation with your kids.
Start having conversations early with your children. Do your normal back-to-school preparations. Let them pick out their backpacks and lunchboxes. Use your energy towards them building up the start of the school year. If your family is choosing to not shop in stores together, that is perfectly fine. Your kids would find it fun to help fill your digital cart with their school supplies as well. This is a great opportunity to sit down with your kids individually and discuss things they are excited about and nervous about for the coming school year.
In addition to doing the normal things like getting new school supplies, it is also important to have frequent conversations about the things that will look dramatically different. One of these is the use of facemasks. It is important that you help your child practice wearing a facemask prior to the start of the school year. Giving them time throughout the day where they can practice putting a mask on, or completing a small task while wearing it, will help them become more comfortable with wearing it.
It is important to talk to your children about the things they can do to help ensure they stay healthy during the coming school year. Talk to them about things that they shouldn't be sharing with their friends that may look different from previous years, like their supplies or snacks. If you have a child who likes to bite their nails or chew on their fingers or shirts when they’re anxious, this is a great time to help them start finding healthier coping skills and talking to them about how their hands have germs and the replacement coping skill is a healthier choice.
The last step to ensuring a positive start to a very different school year is making sure you’re talking about school opening in a positive way. Adults have a hard time with the unknown. We tend to question decisions made by others and have open dialog about the things we disagree with. This can be detrimental to your child’s mental health at the start of a new year. If you think schools are doing too much or not enough, have these conversations away from your children. Your children need to buy in to the changes happening this school year in order to have a successful and fun year. So when you discuss them going back to school, be excited for them; talk positively about the changes and support the decisions of the school administration.
Christine Weinzapfel Hayden serves as Youth First School Social Worker at Corpus Christi, St. Matthew and St. Philip Schools.