It is the question every parent is asking: “Will my kids go back to school this fall?” It is possible that schools may reopen for on-campus learning, continue with remote learning, or even incorporate the two models into a novel curriculum hybrid. With so many diverse possibilities, it’s nearly impossible to know how to prepare. While we may not be able to predict what the near future of going back to school will look like, we can prepare ourselves and our children for any possible outcome by building resilience.
Resilience is the ability to recover and adjust quickly to change. Children have shown more physical resilience to COVID-19 than adults, but what about mental and emotional health resilience? As the uncertainties about the return to school are prolonged, children’s emotional distress persists. Building resilience in children can provide the tools they need to respond to emotional distress and overcome adversity. For this article, I’ve adapted the Seven C’s of resilience outlined by Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, in his book A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings to elaborate on a means of building resilience in children preparing to go back to school during a pandemic. They include:
Competence is the ability to handle situations effectively. Encourage children to focus on their individual strengths and identifying how to use those strengths. For example, children growing up in the world today have an instinctual ability to work with technology, a skill that in the day of virtual/distance learning is worthwhile.
Confidence allows children to believe in their own abilities. Praise children honestly and specifically. Rather than, “You were good while shopping for school supplies,” say, “I love how you kept your distance from other shoppers and kept your hands to yourself.” Not only is specific praise more believable, but it lets children know exactly what is expected of them.
Connection is one of the best protective factors we can provide for children is a solid sense of security and unconditional love. A 2020 publication on risk and resilience in family well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, written by Prime, Wade, and Browne, suggests that building and maintaining supportive family relationships allows children to feel understood by utilizing emotion regulation support from their parents. Let children know that home is a safe space to verbalize their fears of the upcoming school year and to process their strong emotions.
Character, children can develop a good sense of character as they begin to recognize themselves as a caring individual. Part of adapting to a worldwide health crisis is understanding the importance of community and considering the needs of others. Children can feel good about selfless actions by understanding that even though it might not be comfortable, wearing a mask while in school can protect other people from getting sick. Contribution
A sense of purpose is gained when children recognize the importance of their contributions. Talk with children about how many other people in the world don’t have the comfort of sanitized spaces or the convenience of online learning. Modeling generosity and teaching the value of serving others when able helps children realize that the world is a better place because they’re a part of it.
Coping is the ability to cope with stress effectively can help children overcome an array of life’s challenges. Normalize feelings of stress and anxiety while modeling positive coping strategies and facilitating solution-focused discussion. For example tell them, “It’s okay to feel worried about not seeing your friends as often this school year, but if we can’t see them at school, we will schedule virtual group hangouts to stay connected.”
Control is when children are able to recognize that their decisions can control outcomes, they learn how to respond to challenges in ways that promote positive results. It’s important to communicate to children that while we can’t control how COVID-19 affects the school year, the decisions we make in response to these events can keep us safe and happy.
Ultimately, there is no simple means of preparing for the upcoming school year. The best we can do for children is to help them develop flexibility to change and provide them with a sense of resiliency to overcome life’s unpredictable challenges.
Jennell Brown, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor at The Willow Center and can be reached at 419-720-5800.
Ginsburg, K. R., & Jablow, M. M. (2006). A parent’s guide to building resilience in children and teens: Giving your child roots and wings. Elk Grove Village, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Prime, H., Wade, M., & Browne, D. T. (2020). Risk and resilience in family well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Psychologist.