Starting the New School Year During COVID-19
By Sandy Bothmer, author of Creating the Peaceable Classroom
The start of the new school year is fast approaching. No matter how your school district has decided to cope with COVID-19, there is more than enough angst for parents and their children. Added to that are the usual concerns of how your child will get along with his/her classmates. Will your child be able to handle the subject matter? Will a particular issue be handled in a positive way by the new teacher? Children also have some uneasiness as the new school year begins too. They wonder what their teacher will be like. Will their friends be with them this year? Will the work be too hard? There is more than enough concern for sure!
Teachers and administrators are also dealing with angst—as they approach the new school year with numerous restrictions in place, they must come up with the best plan for their communities based upon how the virus is affecting their state/towns and cities. They, too, are concerned about the well-being of their families. These concerns amplify their usual concerns of meeting the needs of all their students. Will they be able to balance family and school responsibilities? Will they be able to correctly follow all of the COVID-19 safety protocols expected in school?
The decision for parents is enormous and very difficult for sure as they weigh the pros and cons of in-school, hybrid, virtual, or home schooling, with their particular family’s health issues and needs. A pediatrician recently told parents struggling with making the “best” decision for their children that the decision you make is the right decision. No decision is the wrong decision; all are imperfect. How you choose to think about your decision makes the difference. The future is uncertain, so just do your best. Wise words for parents, school teachers, and administrators alike.
Here are a few suggestions for taking care of the uneasiness that may exist as the beginning of school approaches, as well as throughout the school year:
Have either a family meeting or private discussion regarding how your child feels about the start of school as he/she will be experiencing it. Quiet any fears your child has by positively relating your reasons for the decisions you have made. The degree to which you go into this is dependent upon the age and understanding of your child. Give them only as much information as is appropriate. How you feel about your decision will be conveyed to your child through your body language, tone, and actions, impacting how he/she moves forward. This same idea can be used by teachers in their classrooms as they explain the steps that the school is taking to keep them safe and healthy.
Fears might be written down as a list or on separate pieces of paper, discussed, and then ripped up and tossed into the trash can. The list can be your child’s concerns or the family’s concerns. You could also write them down and then put the list in the Worry Eaters mouth, a plush toy with a zippered mouth, to be gobbled up. (Haywire Group Worry Eaters)
Uneasiness can be quieted by using the Releasing Breath, which I call Dragon Breath, with younger children:
Breathe in deeply from the belly up.
Exhale, puffing the air out forcefully. Feel the navel draw back to the spine to expel all of the stagnant air and toxins. I tell younger children to imagine they are a dragon breathing out all their fiery, worrisome feelings until they have all been released.
Continue repeating the process of inhaling and exhaling until the air expelled is a soft whisper. Notice how you feel.
Do this whenever uneasiness is taking over.
Finger walking a spiral is another way to quiet the body and mind. You can use this spiral, draw your own on a sheet of paper, or make the outline with your fingertip on a desktop, pant leg, bed spread, or any surface. You can even draw it small in the air with the tip of your nose and spiral back out. That’s a subtle way to do it if you are with others and don’t want the spiraling to be obvious.
Print the paper spiral. Start at the opening (the mouth) and glide your finger between the twiggy lines of the spiral to the center. Go slowly, focusing on your finger as it spirals to the center.
Pause at the center. You might leave your worries in the center and then spiral out again. This process allows you to move forward in a more relaxed way. (If you have preschoolers or first graders, you may e-mail me for a more appropriate spiral with larger paths: firstname.lastname@example.org)
When you come to the opening again, pause and notice how you feel.
Know that whatever plan your school district has adopted for the coming school year, there are things that you can do quiet your angst. Be as positive as you can and pay attention to your body and how it’s feeling. Make honest communication and self-regulation a part of your wellness plan as the new school year starts.
"Sandy has captured, synthesized and fully understands the needs of children in the 21st century. She offers simple tools to integrate numerous possibilities seamlessly into a teaching environment. These tools are essential values necessary for children and adults to live a fully balanced, integrated and happy life. There is no doubt in my mind that Creating the Peaceable Classroom ought to be required reading for every teacher and caregiver."
—Rosemary Todd Clough, founder of Creative Kids Yoga®