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Tips for helping your child deal with school uncertainty

As the start of the school year approaches, a lot of uncertainty remains about how education can continue while the world deals with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Parents with school-age children may be seeing how sensitive their children can be to change and uncertainty. So, how do you help your child deal with the uncertainty of adjusting to a new normal when you don’t know yourself what that might look like?

Address virus fears and life changes openly

It may help to first ask your child what they know about the coronavirus – what have they seen, heard or read? Then ask if they have any questions you can answer. Children no doubt are aware of something going on. They see the changes to their lives, but they may have some misconceptions and fears that you can address.

Young masked girl hugging mother before school“Be honest about the virus, how it’s impacting our lives and let them know how they can do their part,” said Ameera Nauman, MD, a pediatrician at OSF Medical Group – Primary Care in Godfrey, Illinois. “Be a good role model. Explain it can impact everyone. Don’t blame a certain group. Express empathy and support for people who are sick.”

Tone is important, too.

“I think it’s extremely important to set a positive tone, as a parent myself,” Dr. Nauman said. “Remain calm and know children react to what you say and how you say it. Try to give them simple reassurance that lots of researchers and doctors are working as quickly as they can to keep everyone safe.”

Also, too much television and radio news can be overwhelming and stressing, so monitor your child’s exposure to news media.

Empower your child

The virus can seem daunting and scary. Help your child see the virus as something we are all working together to control by keeping each other healthy. Give them a role to play in the collective effort and clear instructions on what to do.

It can be reassuring for a child to have things they can do to make an impact on the world around them. So if they end up attending in-person classes, they’ll feel more comfortable knowing how to do their part. It can help make the situation seem more manageable and less scary.

“Give them some control,” Dr. Nauman said. “Let them know how to keep themselves and others protected.”

Make sure your child knows how to wash their hands properly, how to handle their mask properly and why they need to physically distance from their friends and teachers. Being secure in this knowledge may help your child feel a little more secure at school.

Prepare for online instruction

While in-person instruction is ideal, it may not be safely possible this fall. Your child may need to attend school totally or partially online from home. That means you as a parent will need to monitor your child’s screen time, so they don’t overdo it.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics says the (recommended) screen time limit for children is two hours per day,” said Kyle Boerke, PsyD, a psychologist at OSF Medical Group – Psychiatry & Psychology in Peoria, Illinois. “We need to limit the amount of screen time our kids are having.”

Dr. Boerke suggests having a charging station set up where your child can check in their electronic and internet-enabled devices when screen time is over. This way your child clearly understands when the devices are off limits, and you can rest easy knowing your child isn’t doing anything dangerous online at night.

Setting and maintaining a routine schedule can have a positive impact, too. Set up a quiet place with space for materials and no distractions where your child can work.

“Knowing that kids are going to be in front of a screen a lot more, potentially – when it’s time to shut off from school, get them away from that area,” Dr. Nauman said. “Routine and consistency help a lot of kids. Especially if they have ADHD or anxiety, this can really help them.

“Routine is how children learn work ethic. Most of us get up early in the morning, get ready and go to work. It provides a sense of accomplishment – a sense of control and ownership over what they’re doing. At a time of great unknowns, they know these are things that don’t change.”

Your child’s pediatrician is a great resource, and you should contact them if you have questions.

Last Updated: April 14, 2021

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: COVID-19, Kids & Family