Parent Anxiety: Starting a New School Year during a Pandemic

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Last March, schools across the country began to shut down due to COVID 19 and students and families were thrown into distance learning. Our experiences widely varied, but we had no choice in the matter. Now that the new school year is beginning, we are facing a very different situation. In some areas of the country the rates of the coronavirus are significantly higher than they were last spring. Schools are reopening completely in person, hybrid mixes of in school and virtual, and completely virtually. In many cases, families need to decide if they are sending their children back into the schools. As parents, it is incredibly difficult to determine what is best for our families.

There are many different factors that need to be considered when deciding whether families should send children back to school or keep them home for virtual learning. The most obvious is the health and safety of the family. There may be children or family members who are high risk, or some people are just more concerned than others about the risk of getting sick. They may not be comfortable with the plan for social distancing at school. These fears can cause a great deal of anxiety for parents. Some families depend on school for childcare and will have the difficulty of coming up with a new plan. They may need to find alternative caregivers who are available 5 days a week, or they may need ones who are flexible to work around a rotating hybrid schedule. This is not always possible and can create a financial strain on the family. Other parents may be working from home and now finding themselves trying to figure out how to balance their own work with their kids’ schooling. On top of all of this, school districts are constantly changing their plans and parents have to figure out a solution for every possible situation. In schools that have already opened, there may be students and teachers who have been sent home to quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus. Parents have to be ready to change gears at a moment’s notice. The stress of this is taking its toll on all of us.

So what is a parent to do? Unfortunately, there is no one perfect solution to all of this. There are numerous pros and cons for both reopening schools and making them partially or completely virtual. School administrators have to weigh their options between safety and making sure that students get the education that they deserve. While there are students who would be safer at home than to risk being infected with the coronavirus, there are other students who rely on schools to protect them from hunger, abuse, and neglect. Not all children have access to the necessary technology for them to be able learn virtually. Others have special needs which cannot properly be met online. The CDC has created a school decision-making tool to help parents consider many of these factors.

There are other families that do not get to decide what happens with their child’s schooling. The school district may have decide to make schooling completely virtual, so it is up to the parents to figure out how to make it work in their homes. Others can’t manage virtual learning for various reasons and the children have to go back in person. Not having a choice does not make the situation any easier. Parents still have anxiety about dealing with education, safety, and the changes that they will have to make in order to make the school year and family life a success. Sending our children off to school when we are not in the middle of a pandemic can be stressful for many parents. This year, that anxiety for many of us is greatly intensified, and others are experiencing it for the first time. We need to acknowledge that this anxiety is normal, while at the same time recognizing that we can take steps to reduce our anxiety. Properly preparing your child to go back to school, whether in person or virtual, can help to relieve everyone’s anxiety.

As parents, many of us are facing challenges caused by the pandemic which are beyond anything we have ever imagined. We are going to struggle, we are going to worry, we are going to have setbacks. But we are going to get through this. Parents need to use all of the facts available to them to develop plans that work for their families. Know what your school district’s plan is for reopening and what options are available. But most importantly, trust in your ability as a parent to be able to make the best decision for your family and be respectful of the decisions made by others.


School Decision-Making Tool

Parental Anxiety? 5 Ways to Relieve the Worry

6 Ways to Prepare Your Kids for School


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