There are a lot of feelings about going back to school this fall. No matter where you stand on the issue, there is likely one thing we all have in common: none of us are entirely satisfied with the answers. As parents of a 5 and 12-year-old, my teacher husband and I discuss the “go back” plans daily. And we realized the impact this is having on our kids.

We are feeling stress over exposing ourselves to the virus. With three people in my household going to three different school buildings, I really wonder if it’s not a matter of “if” we get COVID-19, rather “when.” So I get this overwhelming feeling that we should homeschool. But our youngest “social butterfly” is in dire need of interaction, and to be honest: I need some space from these kids. And I’m struggling to feel present: as an employee, as a parent, as a spouse, even in my own mind!

I can fairly easily identify my children’s emotions, like when I sense one child’s anxiety before an orthodontist appointment, and another child’s excitement over spending the day at Grandma’s. And they are usually fairly “on point” in sensing my emotions. If that’s true, what message am I sending my kids about going back to school this fall, in the midst of a highly contagious viral pandemic?

So I reflected. And researched. And pushed the reset button. Here’s what I’m doing for my kids as we prepare for them to enter school buildings this fall.

Choose a Positive Outlook

Have you seen this meme, or something similar to it, circulating on social media?

I realized my husband and I are talking and worrying about COVID (and going back to school) in front of our boys too often. We definitely share the reality of what’s happening in our community, the country, and the world, but there is a limit. And I’m guessing you’ve caught yourself talking about this pandemic and the opening of schools over, and over, and over – to the point where you’ve caused your own headache with worry and exhaustion.

So, we’ve been intentional about trying to limit our anger and disappointment in front of our kids. We talked with them about why masks are important. We’re practicing wearing masks. We’ve talked about what we know school procedures will look like. We’ve asked them to express their feelings; they’re mostly excited to see everyone! Only the little one is most nervous he won’t like what is served for lunch. Every adult working in a school building needs our support to send our “best” kids to them, as much as we are able. If there ever was a school year every educator, parent, and child worked together: I’d say this is the one to “tag in” on.

There will be some initial concern about the masks, and hand washing, and social distancing. But then it will become “normal.” Our children are resilient. And our “can do” attitude – at least in front of our children – will lead to their success. Save your concerns with another trusted adult who will wallow with you – but also help you get out of the “muck” so you don’t stay in an angry/depressed/helpless state.

Practice Calming Strategies

To be honest, I have been so sick and tired of hearing about “self-care” strategies in the midst of this pandemic. But dang it – they DO help. Don’t forget to use these strategies with your kids too! Our role-modeling is essential to help them cope with these times as well.

Take three deep breaths.

Move. Stretch your arms above your neck, or do some neck rolls. Go on a walk.

Get offline. Take a break from scrolling social media or news headlines.

Identify an emotion you’re experiencing and why. Then share it with your kids and ask them to identify an emotion and why they are feeling it too!

Provide Normalcy

If you don’t set routines in your house, now is the time to start. The extra stress at school of disinfecting, washing hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing means your kids could benefit from predictability – and security – at home.

If you’re social distancing like us, there really is nowhere else to be at dinner time right now. Do your best to plan meals and sit as a family to eat.

Have wind-down activities near bedtime (screen-free!) and get everyone to bed around the same time so they get enough sleep. Yes, even high schoolers and parents need this!

Every Sunday after lunch, we have “family meeting.” We all look at the calendar to understand events for the week ahead, and kids earn their allowance for the week. Our kids love “family meeting.”

Hope for the Future!

They keep saying this will go away eventually. Social distancing will be a thing of the past. No.more.masks. Hold onto this hope and keep reminding your kids. We can do this for a while. We can choose to be a part of the solution!