Going Back to School in a Pandemic

If you live in BC, you’re among thousands of parents absorbing the news about the coming school year. Within the next couple of weeks, kids will be back in the classroom. All of our staff from K-12 and students in Gr 4-12 will be required to wear masks while indoors or on the school bus. K-Gr 3 students will be encouraged to wear masks, but that will remain the choice of the student and their families.

And we all collectively sighed, didn’t we? Sighs of relief, of exhaustion, of worry and ongoing anxiety. It’s okay to sigh. Breathe deeply in and out – it’s good for you to do. And it’s good for your kids too. As we continue to grapple with a world where the only constant is that nothing is constant, it’s important to hold fast to the things that help you cope, that keep you moving forward when you’re worried about getting locked in a standstill.

Going back to school used to be the territory, overall, of happier things. School supplies, lunchboxes (did you clean it out when it came home last June?), maybe some new clothes if you were lucky. But with September looming on your calendar, what are some small but significant things that you can do to help your child, whatever their age, with retuning to class in the 4th wave? When you see those telltale signs that your kid is not happy about going back and just wants to stay home, here are some tips and techniques to try to encourage that forward movement:

  • Belly breathing: Remember how I just mentioned breathing in and out? Yes, I know, you breathe all the time, all day long. But belly breathing is different. Try it for yourself, and then take a moment to teach your child: when you’re in moments of stress (who isn’t?) your body is translating that mental stress into physical tenseness and shallow breathing as a way to cope. Help yourself to cope more effectively in the moment by reminding your whole body to relax. Drop your shoulders. Slowly inhale deeply through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. Repeat a few times. The action is similar to “smelling a flower and blowing out a candle.” Teaching your child to do this is an immediate way for them to exert some control in a tough situation that can feel out of their hands.
  • Prep time: Set you and the whole family up for success with just a few minutes in your schedule. Help your child get into a routine the night before school starts with picking out something to wear, making sure the backpack is ready to go, the mask is handy for when they walk out the door. Try making this the last thing that gets done before bedtime, every night. Outfit? Check. Backpack? Check. Mask? Check. We got this. Let’s go.
  • Affirmation: Kids need heroes. That’s a fact. We all have a thousand things we are coping with in our adult lives, but the smallest moments of encouragement can mean the most to someone who is often told to do something on the basis of “because I said so.” Tell them that you’re proud they’re doing the right thing. That wearing the mask is a healthy choice for them, their friends, and their teachers. Ask them what’s the thing they most look forward to at school and affirm that experience. “You love recess and lunch time? So did I! What games do you most like to play on your break?”
  • Acknowledgment: And not every day will be sunshine and roses. When the complaints, the tears, the arguments come, sometimes one of the most effective things you can do for a child no matter their age, is to tell them that you hear what they’re saying (and don’t forget to belly breathe). You don’t have to have an answer to all the questions; sometimes they just need you to know they’re not ok; and that you are still there for them. Rather than asking, “How was school today?” try something called Best/Worst/Funniest. “I’d love to hear about your day. What was the best thing that happened? The worst? The funniest?” Now you’ve just opened up a conversation where they can give voice to the things they liked, the things they didn’t, and it still ends on the positive note of the funniest. You can do it too. It’s a good way to share your stories in the car or at dinner and help your kid to feel as supported as they can be. And isn’t it a wonderful thing, when we all can feel heard and supported?

Your Engaged Assignment: First, take a deep belly breath! Then think about these strategies for home but also for work. Don’t we all feel good when we have time to breath, to prep, to feel affirmed and to be acknowledged? Maybe there are some strategies here that would work with in your next 1:1 or over coffee with a colleague.