Saturday, August 1, 2020

Parents: Don't Let Your Kids See You Sweat (and Other COVID-19 Related Back-to-School Thoughts)

I’m just going to get this out there: I feel so grateful that my last kid graduated from high school this year.

Because, wow. What a cluster.

Elementary, middle and high schools with a standard school year are preparing to open their doors to students in a few short weeks. Or not open their doors. Or open their doors on certain days. Or open their doors only part of the day. Or open their doors on certain days for part of the day.

See what I mean?

In my opinion, school districts are faced with an impossible task: find a viable solution in their little corner of the world when the rest of the nation is still floundering around trying to figure out what to do.

This is a no-win situation – for students, for teachers, for parents.

I’ve seen a lot of harsh responses between parents and school districts and especially parents versus parents. Some parents have extremely strong opinions around sending their children back to school or not – and some can be pretty disrespectful to anyone who disagrees with their position.

I get it. There’s camp, “We have to keep on living our lives.” There’s camp, “We need to be cautious because the numbers keep rising for whatever reason.” Then there’s camp, “I have no idea what to do.”

OK, campers. I realize this is a BIG DEAL – deciding what’s best for your child as districts announce their plans for the school year.

But you know what’s an even bigger deal?

How you react to your kids about it.

Think about it. These kids got yanked out of school last March. Anything they were involved in – a sport, a club, an after-school activity, a group project – gone. Socializing for the most part stopped. You all huddled in your houses – together – listening to the news and the CDC and the local governors and that awful excuse of a man who pretends to be president. (Sorry, I can't help myself.)

So, think about how you’ve felt the past six months. The anxiety. The worry. The confusion. The indecisiveness.

Guess what? Your kids have all that, too. And they’re just kids. On top of the “normal” things they have to deal with, like homework and part-time jobs and puberty and relationships and peer pressure and hormones and their siblings and their parents and all the other stuff that comes with being a kid, the world came and dumped a fucking pandemic on them.

Guys, they’re watching you. Just like in the beginning of this thing when we looked to the CDC or the medical community or the federal government or SOMEONE to tell us what was going on, how it was going to be fixed and that we were all going to be OK, our kids are looking to us for the same thing.

Now, we don't have those answers. We still don't really know what’s going on (even if you think you do, let's face it, you don’t). We don’t know if, how and when it’s going to be “fixed” and we don’t know that we’re all going to be OK.

But we can’t push all that onto our kids. They’re probably getting 10,000 different stories from 10,000 different sources on their phones or computers. Their brains aren’t developed enough to even comprehend how to feel about something that none of us have experienced in this lifetime.

What I’m saying is, just try not to project your fear and uncertainty on to your kids. Whatever you decide to do this school year, make that decision as positive as you can in their eyes. If you’re debating with another parent or with your spouse, do it in private. As concerned as we all may be, it’s time to put our big girl and boy panties on and be the role models for our kids.

And while you’re monitoring every cough, sneeze and sore throat your kids will inevitably come home with, keep a very close eye on their mental state. This is not your mother’s school environment anymore – it’s tough in there – and we just piled on masks that hide all facial expressions, social distancing that is the antithesis of kids and washing and sanitizing which we all know that even on the best day isn’t up to par.

Watch for signs of mood changes. Anxiety. Depression. It can be subtle. Sleeping and eating habits might change. Your child may be isolating more in their rooms (if they didn’t do so already.) Younger kids might lash out more often than usual. Not want to go to school. Have a lot of stomach aches. Here's some good information about it, or if you're anti-CDC, try this one.

If I could change anything about schools today, I’d wave a magic wand and add additional qualified counselors – like therapist counselors. A safe place for kids to go when they’re feeling overwhelmed or just not right. In my opinion, you can’t throw a pandemic on top of what they already have to deal with and assume they’ll just “adapt.” We're gonna need a little help here.

Parents vs. Parents: try to put your differences of opinions aside and do what's best for you and your family - and make the best out of it that you can. Just as we are all looking to leadership in our country (whatever that looks like) for reassurance and answers, your kids are looking at you. Try to be that calm they're going to so desperately need in the inevitable storm ahead.