As we look to the start of October, we realize another change and transition is ahead, creating another opportunity for us to check-in with you all and provide some resources and guidance for the next portion of our year.
Taking Care of Yourself
Moving into October, your family is looking at a shift to on-campus learning or a continuation of the distance-learning program. As with any decision-making for your family, it is important to not only consider the needs of your children, but to also keep yourself and your own well-being in mind. Remember, children often take their lead from their parents, so while it makes sense to feel fear during a pandemic and anxiety at the uncertainty of what comes next, feelings can be infectious and your children will pick up on them. Managing your own stress not only provides an opportunity to model coping but also allows you to be more available to assist your child in managing their feelings.
The first step in managing your own feelings is to notice any signals that your body might be giving you as you consider what comes next. Does your heart race? Throat tighten? Do you get butterflies in your stomach? Do you feel a sense of trust and ease? Do you anticipate bumps in the road coupled with the confidence that there are systems and process in place to manage that? Are you worried, stressed, and uncomfortable? You may find that you experience this entire range of feelings and even fluctuate from one to another over the course of the day.
It is helpful to notice and acknowledge those feelings and then provide yourself with a way to cope. Here are some strategies:
- Focus on what you can control. Uncertainty can be uncomfortable. Focus on what is known. Resist focusing on “worst-case” scenarios.
- Use the skills you have to assess risks. Parents often need to step back and take a practical perspective. Use those same skills to navigate what comes next for your family.
- Maintain social connections. During times of stress, social support is essential.
- Be honest and clear about your family’s rules for safety. Setting and communicating boundaries in a clear, calm, and kind manner is great role modeling for children.
- Take time for yourself. Take a break when you need it even if it is just a few extra minutes in the shower.
- Get good sleep.
- Exercise, move, and/or get outside when you can.
- Ask for help. If these strategies are not working and anxiety is persisting and having an impact on your mood, sleep, or appetite, seek professional support.
Talking to Your Child
It will be important for you to engage your child in the conversation about the return to campus and your family’s choice about your desired learning model for your child. Ask your child to share how they are feeling and to solicit questions. You may choose to discuss your family’s approach to safety and your family guidelines.
Your child may express worry and concern about returning to campus. Likewise, if your family chooses not to return to campus at this time, there may be upset feelings or disappointment. Be prepared for those responses so that you can make yourself available to your child and listen.
If you are unsure of how to start this kind of conversation with your children, here are some general guidelines to assist you in that process.
- Ask without assumption: Often when we feel worried or anxious, we assume that others around us do to. That is not always the case, though. Resist asking your child, “What are you worried about?” and instead ask more generally, “What are you feeling about this decision?” or even, “I wonder, what are three feelings you have about this.” Solicit their feelings rather than proposing a feeling they might have. This allows them to reflect on how they feel and identify and name their emotions.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings and show curiosity: “You feel worried. Tell me more about that.” “You said you are excited. I want to know more about that!”
- Help them manage the feelings: The ability to tolerate discomfort and manage emotions is an essential life skill. Equipping children with coping strategies and resisting the urge to remove anxiety from a child’s life, instills a sense of hope and builds resilience to navigate future discomfort and uncertainty.
To rephrase common responses to children’s worries, try these instead:
Rather than “Don’t worry.”
Try “Tell tell me more about your worries.”
“It is no big deal.”
“I can see you’re worried. Let’s take some deep breaths.”
“You will be fine.”
“I am here to help.”
“There is nothing to be afraid of.”
“Let’s talk about this together.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“You can do this and I am here to support you.”
“It is all in your head.”
“Let’s walk or breathe and settle your thoughts.”
“Just stop thinking about it.”
“Let’s try some positive self-talk.”
“I don’t know what you need.”
“Let’s find ways to calm your brain/settle your thoughts.”
- Engage in conversation, but don’t dwell. Be mindful of when the conversation has turned from being constructive to perseverative. Don’t be afraid to shift the focus of a conversation to enhance coping and resilience building.
- If you notice your child has a heightened sense of stress and anxiousness, reach out to us for additional tips, advice, and referrals. Some of the physical signs and signals of distress might include: complaints of stomachaches or headaches; appearing extra clingy, sad, or angry; frequent and significant disruptions to sleep, eating, relationships, and/or coping
Helping Your Child Prepare for What’s Next
If your family returns to on-campus instruction, providing your child with age-appropriate factual information about what to expect when returning to school is important.
As you receive additional information from the school, here are some tips for helping your child prepare.
- Review what the day will look like for your child, including the general schedule and logistics. You may need to review this information in an age-appropriate way a few times before the start of school. Visual reminders can also be a great tool to help your child “see” what the day will look like. Students feel less anxious and more confident when they are informed about the expectations and changes to routines.
- Readjust your family schedule to fit the on-campus schedule so that your child is prepared for the time needed to wake up and get to campus as well as return home from campus and still have down time each day.
- Ask your child what they are looking forward to and what they are concerned about. While you might not have all the answers regarding their concerns, you can communicate that the school is working hard to create a safe environment.
- Reinforce positives and identify strategies for addressing concerns. For example, your child may be concerned about wearing a mask for extended periods of time. Scheduling practice time for wearing masks and recognizing faces before school begins can enhance a child's confidence in adhering to new school norms.
- Discuss how new procedures and adult decisions serve to provide a safe environment for everyone in the school building, adults and students alike. Help your child to identify steps they can take to help contribute to a safe school environment (i.e. wear a mask, wash hands, etc.) and who they can talk to at home or at school if they feel unsafe or have a concern about the safety of others.
If your family plans to continue in the distance learning format, many of these same talking points apply. Begin by reviewing what their days will be like and whether there will be changes to the routine from September. Asking about how they feel about the situation will allow them to share their voice and thoughts. Reinforcing the positives and identifying strategies to address their concerns and questions will also help them understand the decision and manage their feelings.
Children and Masks
Whether on campus or learning from home, your child may still be in the process of adapting to wearing a mask. Below are some general suggestions for helping increase comfort and familiarity around mask-wearing. See the resources section of this letter for additional tips and information on this topic.
- If your child is afraid of masks, practice putting on a mask in front of the mirror and talk about it. Start off small by trying to have the mask on for just a few minutes. Gradually increase the amount of time you and your child wear a mask. You can even turn it into a game or a family-friendly competition.
- Show pictures of other kids in masks and open up a conversation about the universality of mask wearing around the world.
- Instill a sense of control by allowing your child to pick out a mask color or design. Choose a mask that they can decorate and personalize. Allow them to put masks on stuffed animals and dolls.
- Play games with the mask, such as, “peek-a-boo” and “guess my expression.” Explain and demonstrate to your child that you’ll be smiling even though your face isn’t visible. Ask your child to guess how you’re feeling from the expression of your eyes and eyebrows and then reveal how the expression in the eyes matches your mouth.
- Practice talking with the masks to ensure your child can hear and understand you and is familiar with how voices sound with a mask on.
If your family will be returning to on-campus instruction, establish a good-bye ritual to help ease the drop-off transition. Send your child into school with a family picture or a small object of sentimental value. Read a book such as The Kissing Hand to reinforce the idea of being connected even when apart.
Give yourself and your family time—literally and figuratively! Allow for a longer commute and drop off than you might actually need in order to help prepare for any hiccups that may occur with either. In addition, remember that this is a transition and a change and that managing that is a process that develops over time. Some days will be smoother than others. Highs and lows will occur. Be patient with your child and gentle with yourself as everyone works to readjust to the new family routine.
Regardless of whether your child will be on campus or in distance learning, continue to laugh and play together. It will be easy to become absorbed by trying to manage schedules and emotions. Make a plan now, as a family, to have down time together. Perhaps there are rituals you’ve created over the past few months that you’ll want to continue. Maybe there is a new idea or activity that you want to try. Likewise, continue to seek out or maintain the social opportunities that have worked for your family. Dedicating time for connection and socialization will help to reduce everyone’s stress.
For all families, it will be helpful and important to remind your child that this decision is a personal choice and one in which people will decide differently. As our Core Values indicate, we respect each family at NPS and extend love and support to you and your child whether that be in person or online.
Please see below for additional resources related to some of the topics covered in this letter.
Videos and articles related to masks
Articles related to the start of school in general and returning to campus in particular
We are here for you and for your children as we continue moving through this year together.