To Send or Not to Send Your Kids to School During this Pandemic…

One of the common themes of my sessions these days seem to be the difficult decision ahead of many parents of young children and youth: Should I send my child(ren) back to school or keep him/her/them home in the Fall? For some, it is not really a difficult decision at all – we have work to return to and a need for normalcy for our little ones. For others, it’s a waxing and waning back and forth between one and the other.

There seems to be an ongoing script going on in our minds consisting of thoughts like:

I worry about my child’s mental health if he or she stays home. My child needs social interactions and misses his or her friends. I don’t trust that other parents will send their children to school healthy. Will there be a second wave and will I have to take time off work again? Can my child stay safe without my supervision and in a classroom with large sizes? I won’t be able to get any work done if my child is home and needs help.

And now many parents are facing an upcoming deadline to make this decision…

Here are a few things that I like to remind parents to consider when deciding what to do:

  1. Remove the opinions and judgments of others. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about this issue and every family has different needs. You may wonder what people will think if you send your child to school or keep your child at home. And if you are wondering, STOP. What you choose to do with your child is your decision and you will make the choice that you believe is the best for your family. You don’t have to justify or defend your decision to anyone.
  2. Remember that this school arrangement is temporary. Whether you send your child to school to a modified environment or keep your child home, this arrangement is meant to be temporary. This is not how school will operate forever (hopefully). So if you worry that whatever environment your child will be in will permanently impact their educational trajectory or mental health, remember that children can be very resilient and this is not a “forever plan”. This is a “right now plan”. There are also opportunities to change our minds if we don’t feel like it is working.
  3. Remember that you know your child. Talk to him/her/them. As you already know, every child has their own strengths and needs. What works for one may or may not work for others. Will their mental health suffer if they are at home without their friends? Will their mental health suffer if they return to school in a more restrictive and regimented environment? You know your child better than anyone and you need to make the choice that will best fit your child’s needs. I have talked to many parents who say, “I’ll see what he or she wants”. This is great. Involve them in the conversation. But, please, also remember their capacity to understand the situation. You may have to make a decision that your child does not want, but ultimately, it is your decision (for young ones, of course. This may not apply to high school students). Explain why the decision is being made. Highlight the positive aspects of it. Remind them that it is temporary. Answer their questions. Address their fears and anxieties.
  4. Let go of the the guilt. As an extension of #3, forgive yourself if you feel guilty about the decision that you are making. A difficult decision is one where the outcomes of many of the options are not viewed positively. Sometimes, we just have to make the best decision with what we have, which could be a whole lot of nothing good. People may not be happy, including yourself, your partner, and your child(ren). Remember, this choice is based on need rather than want – what is best may not always be what is wanted.
  5. Inform yourself. Before making any important decision, it is important that you inform yourself of your options. Even though there appears to be a larger model that is being proposed, read about your particular school board and educate yourself on their plans. Read the Frequently Asked Questions if these exist. Ask questions if you are still unclear. You have the right and the responsibility to make an informed decision.

Good luck parents! And whatever you choose, remember that no matter what happens a month from now or a year from now, we make decisions based on what we believe is best right now. We have no idea what or how this will look like later. We are not fortune tellers. Be kind to yourselves.

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