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Repost: Article by Patti Barnes/

Any other year, when September peeks over the horizon, the atmosphere in our home is one of excitement. With five children, our back-to-school season usually runs like a well-oiled machine. The kids are looking forward to going back to school and hanging out with their friends. I am looking forward to having them out of the house.

However, this year, thanks to Covid, the mood is one of uncertainty and anxiety, with a hint of impending doom thrown in for good measure.

The first Covid-19 related death in Canada occurred less than two kilometers from our home and while the public health response in BC was held up as a success story, we’ve seen a recent worrying surge in cases.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education in BC has tried to balance public health, the need for adults to return to work, and the social and emotional welfare of our children by creating back to school guidelines that each school district must “personalize” to suit their communities.

While this is a good idea in principle, this approach has left everyone I know wondering why the approach in their home school district is different from that of the school district “next door.”

Those I have spoken with do not understand why, when research suggests that children over the age of ten spread the virus as effectively as adults, recommendations for grades 10 to 12 differ from those for grades 6 to 9. 

When we send our kids to school, we want to know they are well cared for and safe. I know our teachers will take good care of them but right now it’s very difficult to be confident our children are safe when what little we do know about the virus, appears to be applied inconsistently. 

From a personal perspective, there’s a gap where our plans to make and share “return to school” baked goodies used to be. I’ve spent time sewing name tags into facemasks and labeling personal hand sanitizer bottles. We’ll be reminding the kids not to greet their friends with open arms and to substitute their hugs with air-high-fives.

To help you and your children manage and adapt to the new back-to-school, I’ve put together a few tips that have been helpful in our house:

  • Spend some time looking at child-friendly masks. Once you have found some you approve of, show your child the shortlist and let them choose. Kids will be more likely to wear and less likely to share their masks if they have chosen something special.

  • Talk to your child about social distancing and other Covid behaviours using school-specific situations and age-appropriate language. 

  • Provide specific alternatives. For instance, instead of simply saying “You mustn’t hug your friends” you could say “We shouldn’t hug people outside our family right now, but we can bump elbows or give air-high-fives.” Then show your child what you mean and be sure to make it feel fun and not scary.

  • Try not to make things too serious. You do not want your child to go to school, and spend their day, in a state of high anxiety. Let them know that there’s no need to panic if they forget what they are told and touch a friend’s hand. Provide reassurance that is something like this happens all they have to do is go and wash their hands with soap and water.

  • Make time every day to ask your child how they are and don’t dismiss their feelings. Avoid saying “Don’t be silly” or “That’s nothing to worry about.” Instead, let them know you understand and that it’s OK to be worried. Then, where you can, offer practical help or clear guidance.

  • Establish a regular wind-down and bedtime routine as soon as possible. Pair this with a regular wake time and your body learns when to sleep and rise, making it easier for your child.

  • It’s easy to slide into being serious about everything so don’t forget to include lightheartedness in your day. Rather than greet your child with questions about whether or not they touched someone today, ask them an open question about something else. For example “What was the best part of your day today?”

  • I know it’s not easy, but don’t forget to take care of yourself, even if it’s a few moments alone, taking deep breaths. It’s not unknown for me to lock myself in the washroom, let myself go to pieces for a few minutes, take some deep breaths, and then get it together enough to carry on.

It’s not easy to juggle all of the demands of our lives. Perhaps you’re caring for a baby, toddler, tween, teen, older relative, someone with an illness or disability, or maybe it’s a combination of those. 

Throw in looking after a household, maintaining your relationship, your own mental and physical health, maybe a job outside of the home, the stresses of back-to-school, and add additional concerns about our families and Covid. It’s no wonder you might feel overwhelmed.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Each of us has different issues and our own struggles to cope with, but underneath our personal differences, we all just want to do the best for our kids.

NOTE: If going back to school is not an option for you or your kids this September, check our Blueheel Learn & Play Program: Learning Pods for Grade 1 - 6

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