How to Talk to Your Kids About COVID-19 School Closures

This is the year my daughter should be graduating from kindergarten.

In an alternate universe—one in which our lives remain untouched by widespread illness—we will celebrate every small aspect of this occasion. We will buy a dress. The more impractical, the better. We will hang it on her bedroom door for weeks, a ruffled and flamingo-pink reminder of what’s to come—a marker of how much she has grown.

In this alternate universe, my family pours into the school, a bright and happy little place that has nurtured my child for the last three years. There will be 6-year-olds in suits and ties, puffy dresses and white lace socks. Afterward, I will try to explain to my daughter that not all tears are created equal. Sometimes, I’ll say, we cry when our bodies are so full of joy that it has nowhere else to go. I’ll grip my oversized sunglasses in my hands.

In reality, there won’t be a kindergarten graduation this year. Or at least not the one my daughter and I have been envisioning. We won’t buy a dress. She won’t hug her friends. She won’t say goodbye to that bright and happy little place in person.

 

In reality, there won’t be a kindergarten graduation this year. Or at least not the one my daughter and I have been envisioning. We won’t buy a dress. She won’t hug her friends. She won’t say goodbye to that bright and happy little place in person.

 

Instead, I am quietly planning how to tell my kid that she won’t be returning to school at all this year. Every interaction she will have will take place on the dreaded Zoom call. As you can imagine, I don’t want to have this conversation anymore than you do. But as cities across the nation lengthen stay-at-home orders and extend school closures through the academic year, it’s clear that it’s time to help my daughter understand what she is losing.

It helps, I’m learning, to find a new perspective.

 

‘School Is Not a Building’

Trevor Muir, a writer and school teacher, recently railed against the news media headlines that claim, “School Is Canceled!” In a spoken word poem, he said, “Don’t tell me school has been canceled. School is not a building or a location. It’s a collection of people who are committed to meaningful relationships. And that’s something that doesn’t just dissipate when there’s a virus that spreads across nations.”

His words ring true. Like teachers everywhere, my daughter’s instructors have been stepping up to the plate. They call her on the phone and talk through school projects. They bring energy and joy to every remote lesson, which is a tall order considering how much my child hates this so-called “distance learning.” One teacher even rang our doorbell just to see my kid’s face through the front door.

Muir is right when he says our school community is not a building. It helps to remember that the warmth and encouragement my child felt in the classroom are not confined to its walls.

 

Source: @danafaylee

 

Let Kids Feel Their Feelings

When sitting down to break the news of school closures to children, school psychologist Chelsea Bartel, Ph.D., reminds parents to model healthy emotional expression and have an honest conversation with kids. But don’t be fooled into thinking this means you need to pretend that everything is fine. Bartel emphasizes that it’s more about being authentic during these tough times. “Try helping [your child] to name what they’re feeling and reflect that feeling back to them,” Bartel said. “You can say, ‘You’re feeling so sad. I’m right here with you.’”

Naming feelings like this, she explained, helps to balance what one psychologist, Dr. Marsha Linehan, calls “the wise mind” and “the emotional mind,” which is key to getting through trauma.

It’s also important to note that children might not share your emotions over the news—or their emotions may be delayed as they process the information. Fallyn Smith, MSW, PPSC, a school counselor and Family Coach at Mindful Kids Coaching, encourages parents to keep checking in on how their kids feel. If they are disappointed or sad about missing a school ceremony, Smith suggests parents invite them to dream up alternative plans. “Let them feel their feelings, but also provide them hope that you will still celebrate and that celebration will be special,” Smith said.

Above all, don’t diminish your child’s feelings of loss. These are hard times for sure, and the grief we feel over missing opportunities is very real. And while our children’s emotions may run the gamut with each canceled event, with enough gentleness and steady support, we can all help each other—moms and kids alike—make it through in one piece.

 

Read More: A Letter to My Children During This Time in Our Lives

 

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