Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center, the region’s leading resource to prevent abuse, protect children and heal families, is sharing tips for parents and caregivers to consider when discussing the inevitable changes children will face when returning to school, either in person or virtually. These tips were created to help ease a child’s anxiety and start an honest dialogue with children based on their feelings of uncertainty around the pandemic and school.
Dee Norton also recognizes the community’s concerns with all learning options, whether these are health and safety worries, long term impacts on learning and education, apprehension around new school processes or the influence a virtual school setting could have on a child’s emotional, social and mental well-being.
“Children will commonly share the reactions and fears of their parents, and even moreso after months close to home due to the pandemic,” said Dr. Carole Swiecicki, Executive Director of Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center. “While the uncertainty around the new school year creates reasonable anxiety in all, especially due to its unprecedented nature, as with any challenging topic, caregivers need to model open communication with children, and help them understand and process change so they are better able to manage their stress.”
During this time of uncertainty, Dee Norton recommends the following tips to help promote a sense of safety and security in school age children:
- Talk to your children about what is happening with school. Talk about what’s new this year. Will teachers or children be wearing masks? Will learning be online? Will there be extra hand-washing or a new lunch routine? Talk about what will be the same — their interaction with friends, familiar play equipment or teachers. Be honest, including stating you do not know if the answer is uncertain. Reassure them that the adults in their lives are looking at the risks and making decisions to keep everyone safe.
- Minimize exposure to the news about the current health crisis around kids. Although families need to stay informed, limit exposure to media outlets or social media that might promote fear or panic. Be particularly aware of (and limit) how much media coverage or social media time children are exposed to about the outbreak or school changes.
- Keep to a regular family routine as much as possible. A lot of change at one time can overwhelm children. When school starts, virtually or in person, make sure that the family keeps to a routine and children get enough sleep, eat regularly, drink plenty of water and get frequent exercise.
- Talk to your children about the importance of masks. Use age-appropriate language to explain the use of masks to stop the spread of germs.
Caregivers should keep the below tips in mind to establish a safe communication environment, so their child feels comfortable sharing information and expressing concern:
- Encourage ongoing, open communication. Encourage them to come to you if they are uncomfortable with a new situation.
- Talk about their feelings and validate these.
- Explicitly share the job of a parent or caregiver versus a child. Let the child know that it is a parent’s job to make difficult decisions, and the child’s job is to have fun with friends, do their homework and share how they feel.
- Create a visual system for parents and caregivers to use while juggling at-home work and school schedules. Setting up a red, yellow, green light system to let children know when a parent is available to help throughout the workday can help set a routine.
- Manage personal anxiety and stress to avoid clouding a child’s own judgment. Remember, there are no right decisions, especially in a pandemic.
- Model open, calm communication. Everyone gets upset at times. When you are upset, model self-calming techniques for your children, and your children may be more likely to share openly with you.
- Review your family’s safety and boundary rules. Starting back to school is always a good time to talk about good boundaries and make sure your child knows what to do if someone breaks the rules, both online and in in-person.
Dee Norton currently serves children and families at its 1061 King Street location. While the Center located at 677 Long Point in Mt. Pleasant is currently closed to the public, it is open to Dee Norton staff to provide enhanced telehealth services.
To learn more about how you can help prevent child abuse, visit deenortoncenter.org. The website also includes relevant pandemic resources, including tips for speaking with your child about the outbreak.
About Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center
The Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center is the region’s leading resource to prevent abuse, protect children and heal families. Primary services include forensic interviews, medical examinations and mental health assessments as well as immediate support and coordination. The center also provides evidence-based therapy to child victims and their families. For more information, visit www.deenortoncenter.org.
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