by Ashley Morgan Soukup MA, LMFT
There is an old saying that goes something like, “At a dinner party, you don’t talk about politics and religion.” Who knew that in 2020 we would need to add “education” to that list. Nothing appears to be more polarizing, anxiety provoking, and controversial than deciding to send your child back to school this fall versus engaging in the virtual education option. For some, the decision has been made for them, and while they might not be happy about it, their next decision is how to navigate the “new norm” for the next nine weeks. For others, they are required to choose between two differing options based on the what is best for their child. Whether it has been posts and comments on social media, side bar conversations at the park, or even personal phone calls with friends and loved ones it is very clear that parents are scared. Scared of making the wrong decision, scared for the safety of their child, scared for their child’s emotional well-being, scared for their academic success in the future, and scared of being judged.
It is common knowledge that fear can induce increased anxiety and panic. When it comes to decision making, it is important to quiet the fear or the “noise” to make the most informed decision for your family. Here are some tips to assist in making the best decision for you and your child:
- If your school or county has already made the decision for you, do not get caught up in how you wish it could be different. Focus on what you can control and begin to make plans that best support your child within the circumstances you have been given. The idea of your child being educated virtually for much of the day may be daunting; focus on activities and extracurriculars that could safely keep them active and engaged during the non-structured, after school time. Plan events and outings on the weekends so they have something to look forward to. Encourage them to get outside prior to the school day to help “deplete the battery” before they have to sit for class time.
- Do not get caught up in the fear of others. It is understandable that people are scared and anxious right now, and while some choose to suffer in silence, others take to social media outlets or “venting sessions” to alleviate anxiety and tension. Anxiety has to go somewhere, so while the individual who is venting may feel better, you might assume their fear along with yours. Set very clear boundaries with others. Let your friends and loved ones know that while you appreciate their concern and worry, you have to focus on making the best decision for your family. What might work for you, may not work for others and that is ok!
- Make a Pros and Cons list. This sounds very simple but writing down strengths and concerns can be very helpful when weighing a decision. It is also a great resource to refer back to and help provide clarity when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed about a decision.
- Maintain a positive attitude when discussing the options with your child. Children are susceptible to the stress of their surroundings, and they are also very sensitive to change and transition. No matter what educational experience you choose for your child, remember to model a positive attitude and optimism for success. If you calmly present the experience as one that you both will get through together, your child will have a far better experience. On another note, set boundaries with your child. Adolescents in particular are entitled to an opinion about their schooling, but adults are far better equipped to consider the multitude of factors that make up this type of decision. They get an opinion, but the parent gets the final decision.
- Get creative. The good news regarding this pandemic is that we are learning to adapt as a community. If you are struggling to manage work and your child’s virtual education consider sharing time with friends or neighbors to help manage professional schedules and virtual learning time. Think “professional/educational job share”. If you are concerned with your child’s lack of recess, music and fine art opportunities consider enrolling in small group or virtual extracurricular activities. There are a plethora of ways to meet the needs of your child, it just might not look the way it once did.
- Communicate. While the world is emotionally charged, humanity has not lost its desire to help one another. Navigating your child’s educational journey and maintaining employment is incredibly stressful. Share your concerns with your employer. Express what you need to feel efficient at both home and work and couple these sentiments with plausible solutions. This principle also works when it comes to relationships. The change in structure of your child’s education changes the dynamic in your family. This might include shifting the division of household duties and family roles to provide everyone with more opportunities to reduce stress and explore individual interests.
It is absolutely normal to be experiencing feelings of anxiety around your child’s education as there are a multitude of unknown variables. Remember to focus on what you can control and set appropriate boundaries while seeking healthy communication with others. Above all else, children are resilient, and you are resilient. Trust yourself and your parenting abilities. With a positive attitude and a little creativity your family will get through this stage of change unscathed.