This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 21, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine
Question: Phew. I am having a hard enough time getting through remote schooling with my kids these past months and now I am hearing concerns that kids may not be back in school this fall or, if they are, they will be wearing masks, distancing, and maybe even going only a few days a week. My kids want to be back to school in the fall. They are hearing the rumors too. They are asking questions. How do I address these with them–not knowing what the new school year will bring? I don’t want to say they will be back when they may not be. I also don’t want to have them fearing the worst all summer. What’s the best way to approach this uncertainty?
Answer: Although our children think we do, we do not have any control over what will happen in the future. We cannot make it all better or promise that life will return to normal. Uncertainty is hard for all of us. Take heart. Although this is a very difficult experience, there are real-life lessons here for all of our kids, which will serve them well throughout adulthood. Remember the saying, “It is not the number of times you get knocked down that is important, it the number of times you get back up.” Life is full of uncertainty and change. Helping your kids learn to accept this with grace (as much as that is possible in children) is so important.
Here is what might help:
Offer HOPE: Let your kids know that it is the job of the schools, communities and our government to figure out how to get the students back to school safely. Many people are working on it. It may look different, but a plan will be made. They will soon know what it will look like, and together you will all work on making it work.
Offer VALIDATION: We know that being with friends is a really important part of school. Acknowledge for them that you understand it is hard not to know, and that it is also hard for you. Encourage them to talk about their fears and worries. Talk about this together. This is a way to validate what they are feeling and that you are hearing them, you understand and are feeling it, too. This amazingly lightens the mood.
REFRAME: If you can, reframe the way they, and you, are thinking about this. They are experiencing something extraordinary right now. We are all learning more about science, technology, our interconnectedness and our own ability to be resilient. Because of this pandemic, they are going to be part of a generation that takes big leaps forward in their ability to problem-solve and adapt. As horrible as this virus has been, we have learned so much about ourselves. Encourage them to think about what they are missing and why is it important to them. It can offer a new appreciation.
REDIRECT: Encourage them to take another path in action and thinking. When the worries start to take over, have them focus just on today—what can make today a good day, like building a fairy house or making things from found objects, for example. Check out websites for these kinds of activities together. Foster their compassion. Focusing on the needs of others and getting out of our own heads is the best way to feel better (packing boxes at a food bank, walking the neighbor’s dog, saving the Earth by picking up litter or planting a tree, or reaching out to Facetime with a grandparent).
Try this “formula” I have given you (hope, validation, reframe, and redirect). Hopefully, you will soon have clearer answers to give. Try this on yourself, too.
Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.