School tensions run high for families amid rise in COVID cases: ‘Last year and a half has been brutal for kids’
We are still in the middle of summer, but some families have already started school. Major retailers are running ads for back-to-school shopping, and there’s a general sense that families need to get ready for fall.
But of course there is still a global pandemic going on. In the US, the Delta variant is driving an increase in the number of cases among the unvaccinated – including children under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That can make the trap a little insecure for younger kids — and some people are already talking about it.
“It’s really hard to accept that children have sacrificed more than 16 months of childhood, 2 school years of normalcy, mainly to protect adults from a virus that they are now choosing NOT to vaccinate against, leaving children who are no longer subjects can be vulnerable and everyone is held hostage,” high school English teacher Jessica Kirkland wrote in a statement tweet that has now gone viral.
“Watching the numbers rise, each state with cases rising again, mask restrictions coming back, all because these people don’t grow up and get a chance and realize that all the struggles of the last 2 school years were for NOTHING. Children carried that sacrifice and it was wasted,” she added.
Another person wrote“My teenage son just asked me what the chances are that we will have to quarantine again. My oldest son said he’s going to college this year anyway. It was pure hell for them and their teachers, and if I got anywhere near an antivaxxer today, I’d probably end up in jail. I’m furious.”
“From the beginning, no one cared about children. Every decision was about the economy and business”, someone else said. “Despite the effects that current decisions/variants have on children, that will remain the driving force. Children are collateral damage to a thriving economy.”
The fears are high, but many experts say it is often the parents who are more stressed about school than the children during a pandemic. “Students have generally been very resilient to the changes they’ve gone through,” clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find your balance in life, tells Yahoo Life. “Interestingly, they have changed their attachment to school. The general attitude of children – ‘I hate school’ – has shifted to ‘I miss school’.”
However, parents have had a “major emotional disruption,” Mayer says. “The fear of parents is enormous,” he says. “This has resulted in a huge increase in parental mental health problems.”
For older children eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, this school year may feel more like it has in the past, says Dr. Robert Hamilton, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and host of the podcast The Hamilton Review: Where children and culture come together, tells Yahoo Life. But the situation will likely be different for those under 12.
Still, getting kids back in the classroom is critical, Hamilton says. “Some of these kids haven’t had meaningful interpersonal relationships for a very long time,” he says.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children learn in person during the pandemic, although their recommendations on how to do it safely differ slightly. Earlier this week, the AAP issued guidelines recommending universal masks for children over the age of 2 in school, whether they are vaccinated or not. That’s different from advice from the CDC, stating that “masks must be worn indoors by all persons (2 years and older) who have not been fully vaccinated.
Of course, the transition back to school isn’t necessarily going to be easy — for younger children or their parents. To try and prepare your child for a return to a school year that may be uncertain, Hamilton recommends sitting down with them for an interview. “Tell them that their teachers and mom and dad make this experience very safe so they don’t have to be scared,” he says.
When it comes to masking, some schools need it and others don’t, Hamilton says. “In most classrooms across the country, you probably see some social distancing and masking.”
If your school district doesn’t require masks, it’s a good idea to talk to your child to let them know they still see some people in masks, says Dr. Robert Keder, a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, to Yahoo Life. “It’s important to let them know that people wear masks for a variety of reasons and that’s their choice,” he says.
And if your child is frustrated at the idea of wearing a mask to school again, Keder suggests letting them know that relief is on the way. “Tell them we hope the vaccine will be ready for children sometime around winter and scientists are working on it,” he says.
You can also do a general check-in with your child about how it feels to go back to school. “It’s important for parents to ask kids what they’re most excited about going back to school and most nervous about,” Nicole Cobb, an associate professor of human and organizational development practice at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, at Yahoo Life. “It is also important to validate the many mixed feelings a child has about returning to school. Often adults make assumptions about how children are feeling and may project what makes us nervous rather than what is actually happening to the child. Once we know what’s bothering a child, we can address their specific concerns right away.”
Keder says it’s important for parents to be “real and honest” with their kids about the status quo, but also “check your own emotional response first to make sure you’re okay.”
“The past year and a half has been really terrifying,” he says. “A little fear is helpful, but too much fear can be overwhelming and prevent you from planning.”
Keder suggests that parents ensure they get the facts about COVID-19 from trusted sources such as the CDC and the AAP. “It’s also a good idea to know your school district’s policies and what COVID-19 cases look like in your area,” he says. Knowing all of this information can help lower anxiety levels so you feel prepared to head into the school year, Keder says.
Another way to lower your stress level: Plan things. “Have a plan, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”, Steven L. Pastyrnak, chief of child psychology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, tells Yahoo Life. “If children need to quickly switch back to virtual learning, know how best to support them. Find a place in the house where they can work and check in with them regularly during the day. Make a plan for how you will handle your work adjust schedule if someone gets sick at home or if the kids have to switch to virtual learning. The more prepared we are, the better we feel we are in control.”
You can also prepare by buying extra masks and hand sanitizer now, Keder says. “You don’t have to stockpile like it’s the end of the world, but having stocks — masks, a fair amount of backup stuff you’re comfortable with — is totally okay and a good thing,” he says. . “A little fear motivates us to be safe and prepared.”
In general, experts emphasize the importance of bringing children back to personal learning. “The past year and a half has been brutal for kids,” Hamilton says. “The more we can do to normalize their lives, the better.”
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