Back to School After COVID-19: Parenting Expert’s Advice

As challenging as adapting to home learning was, children’s return to school will likely be just as challenging. After almost 4 months, home learning has become their new normal and they will have to readjust, especially considering all the measures the schools are required to put in place. Luckily, parenting expert Marie Marchand is answering all of our burning questions to aid us in making the transition back to school as smooth as possible. 

With COVID-19, school will not be the same – masks, social distancing, etc. How can we prepare our children for this?

First, we need to give the children the facts, we need to educate them. This is something that most parents have done already over the last 18 weeks. Second, we need to give explanations about what will happen when they go back to school. Use your school’s plan to discuss what is going to happen on day 1. When explanations are given, children are less anxious, and they feel more in control. When they are in control, they tend to follow the rules and cooperate better.

If children have questions, parents should try to answer them as best as they can, with the truth, but also giving information adapted to the child’s age and development. Parents should tell their children what can happen if they touch a contaminated surface as well as explaining that it is not the end of the world, “Don’t panic, just go and wash your hands very well with soap and water.” I believe that this is an especially important thing to teach. We do not want children to be terrified.

Parents might notice that their child is anxious about something, they can use a technique called reflective listening to get the children to express how they feel first and then find ideas to help deal with the situation.

For example:

Parent: “It looks like you are unsure about something…”

Child: “Yes, I am worried that no one will be able to hear me with my mask on.”

Parent: “It is tricky sometimes to hear people when they wear masks. What do you think you can do if you feel that your friends can’t hear you?” 

Brainstorm ideas with your child and let them try some of them. Your child can then evaluate if the ideas are working. (e.g. Use a louder voice, slow down when I speak, get closer to my friend – but not too close, etc)

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What impact will social distancing and wearing masks all day have on their ability to connect and socially interact?

I actually do not know the answer to this question! This is a new experience for all and we will have to see, observe and evaluate the situation to adjust the rules and help children adapt to this new way of living as this situation might last for a while.

I believe that this is a temporary situation and until we discover a vaccine, the children should try, as much as they can, not to be very physical. On the other hand, they need to play, and part of the reason we are sending children back to school is to socialise and connect with others. Everyone has a need to belong to a group and playing is really important for that but making efforts to choose games that do not include very close physical contact is crucial. Suggestions and ideas can be given as well as trying out periods or games.

I also believe that children in general are very resilient and that they will adjust if their fundamental needs are met. Needs like involvement, independence, fairness, connection, and the need to feel capable and worthy. All these needs can be met somehow with social distancing. It requires educators and parents to find new ways to help these needs be fulfilled. The physical needs will be fulfilled, hopefully by family members for now.

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We are going to have to trust the teachers and schools to ensure our children’s safety. How can we help our kids to also take responsibility for their own safety?

The best thing that parents can do to help the teachers and the schools is to train children to do some of the things that the school will be enforcing (e.g. how to put on a mask, how to wash your hands, how to sneeze into your elbow, how to blow your nose, how to express yourself without touching others, etc…). If school and home are on the same page and cooperate, it will be easier for everyone. A checklist can be posted in the classroom or at home to remind the children of some of the steps that they need to do regarding their hygiene. For younger children, getting them to sing the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” when they wash their hands is a habit that can easily be implemented. For older children, after they’re given clear explanations, if they are not following the protocol or the rules, just like for anything else, limits and logical consequences can be given. It is a learning curve for everyone, and adults should role model the right behaviour and show children that the rules are for everyone, not just them. 

Using language of encouragement is very positive to motivate children to do the right thing.

For example:

“Well done for remembering to sing the song while washing your hands, it shows us that you understand its importance.”

“You have used a tissue to blow your nose, great job. Now you need to wash your hands.” 

“What do you think you should do when you see your friends?”

“Give me five for keeping your distance while playing with Sam today. This means that we can have him over again soon.”

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You will be feeling anxious. How can you avoid passing that anxiety on to your children whilst still instilling a sense of awareness in them?

Parents and educators will need time to adjust to this new normal. Educators will have to trust their instincts and change things as they go along, if necessary. Parents have to give educators time to try out the school plan before jumping in and wanting to make changes. They will have to trust the system so as to not pass their anxiety onto their children. They should communicate with educators and management when the children are not around, especially if they need to share something that is causing them stress. Leading by example is the right thing to do. Doing it in a calm manner will help. We know that children need to feel in control, therefore, a good tip would be not to give orders to the children as this will start a ‘power struggle’ and children will become more oppositional, which will bring on more stress. Giving choices or asking them their opinions helps. Parents should also try to express their feelings in a respectful way so that the children do not feel blamed.

Examples:

“We all need to wear a mask, which colour would you like today, the pink or the blue one?”

“It is tricky to remember to wash our hands as we get in the house, what do you think we should do about this?” (When children participate in decision making, they are more likely to follow the rules)

“When you forget to sneeze in your elbow, I am feeling a bit anxious as your germs will go everywhere. You need to wash your hands with soap now and spray the table with disinfectant. Thank you.”

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Some children adapted well to online learning, but others struggled. What lessons can we take away from this to help our children as ‘hybrid’ learning may become the new normal?

The lesson I learned is whether you are physically in class or doing online learning, each child is different, and each has their own learning style. We need to get to know what learning style suits everyone best with and plan to provide activities to cater to everyone, whether online or not.

Some children might prefer some visuals, as others learn best when they move. Educators must continue to find ways to engage everyone and vary their activities. With the youngest children, it is noticeably clear that nothing is better than to physically come to school!

Do you have any final advice for parents?

RESILIENCE is a key word during this pandemic. I have observed so many people learning to deal with this tricky situation and being highly successful at it. People can learn and adapt with the right training and encouragement. 

Remember that Tough Times don’t last, tough people do.’

Want to read more about parenting? Find more articles here.

Ms. Marchand B.Ed. parent, City Kids preschool principal, teacher, parenting consultant and co-author of bestselling children’s book ‘Home from Home’, has over 28 years of international experience teaching in Canada, Switzerland and Hong Kong. She runs private sessions, workshops and seven-week courses with parents, schools and different organizations on all matters related to successful parenting and teaching.

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.