For many of us, it’s time to get ready for Back To School. Whether that means back to distance learning or back into your actual school buildings, this is an important time for our kids. Our kids are excited and ready to start another school year. Many are looking forward to seeing their friends, wearing their new school clothes, having a predictable schedule back in their lives. So what is the most important thing we can do as parents to help our children make this adjustment after months of quarantine and distance learning? You might be surprised to read that I am not going to focus on physical safety, such as masks and handwashing, but on emotional safety and security. The most important thing we can do as parents for our children’s emotional safety while transitioning back to school is to control our own emotions. Our children, both little ones and big ones, are sponges to our emotions. Even if we are not verbally expressing our fears and worries, they can feel them. And they take it on. And it’s heavy for them. Children are still learning to manage their own emotions, they cannot handle ours too.
So what does this mean? That parents are not supposed to have and express emotions and concerns? Of course not! The positive modeling of emotion management is an excellent and vital learning experience for our children. What I mean is that if we as parents are constantly living in fear, our kids will too, and that can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, and all kinds of acting out. But, if we can teach our children to be practically physically safe (here is where the hand washing, masks, etc. come in to play) and to be emotionally flexible, that is a well balanced response to the situation.
Emotional flexibility? That means responding to challenging times with creativity, humor, kindness, and positive interpersonal connections whenever we can. For example, instead of worrying about how hard it is going to be to maintain the new school safety protocols and what to do if people do not do what they are supposed to (which we have no control over), we might turn the discussions to what we do have control over – who we are looking forward to seeing, how much we appreciate those who work in the schools and how can we let them know, what the kids are looking forward to learning about this year and how we can encourage them. Essentially, we need to seek the positives and build upon them. We address the challenges and safety needs in a practical manner but we also focus on life’s blessings. And they are still plentiful! Remember that saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? Break out the lemonade stands, because we need to not only make it, but share it.
Heather Martin, MSW, LCSW is a licenced clinical social worker with over 25 years experience working with children and adults. Her areas of expertise include trauma, anxiety, depression, and adoption. Her favorite beverage currently is lemonade. 🙂