Coping with Re-Opening Schools During a Pandemic

There’s no easy answer to the question of how and when to re-open schools during a pandemic. Most public health experts suggest schools should only open if the rate of new coronavirus cases is on the decline and contact testing and tracing is readily available.

But regardless of where your local school district or state ends up on the matter, you as a parent will have to deal with that decision. How do you cope with re-opening schools during a pandemic?

Here are some tips to keeping your sanity during these especially difficult times.

Stay Reasonably Informed

A person’s anxiety can often be increased by not having enough information. In this day and age of social media, however, the opposite is also true. Too much information — or all too often, misinformation — can be just as bad as too little.

Keep up-to-date with your local school board’s decision-making process. Follow their deliberations and public meetings, and attend them (physically or virtually) whenever possible. Ask questions about the science guiding their decisions. Forgo the insular and politicized Facebook and Nextdoor groups (or keep your interactions and checking on them to a minimum).

Figure Out What Works Best for Your Child’s Specific Emotional, Social & Academic Needs

Each child and teenager is different. What works for your kids may not work for your neighbor’s. Even within the same family, different children may have very different needs for their continued emotional, social, and academic development.

Here you need to try and be as objective as possible in determining their needs in each of these important spheres. For instance, for a child with mild autism, the specialized learning environment of a classroom might be extremely important to their developmental needs. For a 17-year-old senior in high school who’s planning on going to college the following year, a virtual experience might make more sense.

Organize Your Information & Schedules

With so many variables to consider for each child, you need to try and keep things organized about what each child’s specific needs may be, and what option will work best for them. Trying to keep track of every need, every option, every decision point in your head may not be the best management technique.

Instead, keep a chart, grid, or even a spreadsheet of everything. It can be as simple as writing things down on a piece of paper with categories of different needs, the benefits of drawbacks of different modalities for each need (virtual vs. in-person classroom time), the child’s preference, and other columns for information important to you as well. For instance, many parents will want to consider the health of their children and likelihood of catching the novel coronavirus if exposed to it in a classroom setting.

Schedules may need to change in order to accommodate a child who isn’t going back to school. Work with other parents to share coping strategies in learning to better balance these new demands on your time. See if your workplace offers flexible work times to help accommodate your child’s schooling needs.

Learn what to do if a child at school becomes infected. What does that mean for continuing going back to school? How much risk are you and your child comfortable with? Will you test or self-quarantine your own child if they came in close contact with the infected child? Think about these issues in advance and have a plan ready for the worse-case scenario.

Make the Best of a Bad Situation

Up until now, I’ve been assuming that you, as a parent, have a choice in the matter. In many cases, this may not be true, since single parents who have to work to support their family may have no other choice than to send their kids back to school.

In situations like this, it’s best to try and make the most out of the situation. Ensure your child has a mask to wear to school and understands the importance of keeping it on at all times (except when eating or drinking). Have enough masks so that they can wear a different one each day if possible. Wash cloth masks regularly or replace disposable masks daily.

Scientists now believe that the coronavirus appears to primarily be transmitted through the air. But surface contact is still possible, so emphasize the importance of washing hands and avoiding unnecessary contact with others. In short, educate your child or teen as much as possible about what we know and don’t know about the spread of the virus to help keep them safe. It will also help them understand the importance of adhering to the new rules they’re being asked to follow.

The risk isn’t so much to other children (although they can and do get sick from COVID-19), but in infecting teachers or bringing it home to adult or senior citizen family members. Seniors are at especially high risk for health complications if infected.

Join a Support Group or Talk to a Therapist

With support groups and therapy going online full-throttle since the pandemic took hold, there’s no better time to look into joining one of these. Online support groups for parents vary from emotional self-help groups meant to offer parents a place to share their daily ups and downs. These exist in a variety of places, from Facebook groups, to online forums. I typed in “Pandemic parents” into Facebook’s search box, then clicked on the “Groups” tab up near the top. That brought up dozens of groups devoted to parenting while in the pandemic.

A therapist can also be an aid to giving you the support you need. If you have insurance coverage, local therapists can see you via teleconferencing apps like Zoom to keep things safer and better fit in time to your busy schedule. If you don’t have insurance coverage, you can consider paying cash for a service like BetterHelp (affiliate link results in a referral fee paid back to Psych Central if you decide you want to give it a try) or Talkspace. They allow you to start seeing a therapist right away and text with the therapist throughout the week.

Ask for Help From Others & Take Time for Yourself

While it may not always be possible for friends and family members to help out as much as they may like due to social distancing guidelines and in an effort to keep everyone safe, it never hurts to call upon them in your time of need. If you need a little extra help in coping with your child or teen spending more time at home due to virtual schooling, reach out to others and ask. The worst they can do is say, “Sorry, but no.” Getting a little extra time even just once a week for yourself or to catch up something important to you may be the deciding factor between feeling overwhelmed and feeling in control.

As much as your child or teen may need your help navigating more virtual schooling, you need time for yourself as well. You’re of little use to your family if you constantly feel run-down, stressed-out, and at the end of your rope. Carve out daily (or weekly time) for yourself. One or two hours a week is better than no hours per week, time spent doing something calming and enjoyable for yourself, no matter what that may be.

* * *

Remember through this all to keep up hope, as we’re all in this together. Do what feels best for you, your situation, and most importantly, your children. But don’t forget — you’re of little use to your kids if you’re finding yourself at the end of your rope on a daily basis. Take care of yourself first and you’ll be in a much better position to take care of those who depend on you.

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