COVID has put demands on all of us that would previously have been absolutely unimaginable. One of them is explaining why so many previously loved activities – like going to the mall or hugging their grandparents – now may have danger. This dramatic shift in events has forced some difficult conversations, even when our children may not be ready to have them. Here are some tips on how to have this talk with your kids about why they need to move from in-person to virtual learning.
1. Be honest. As a general rule, honesty is always the best policy as a parent, and this moment calls for honesty. Don’t try to fool your kids into thinking that everything is fine. You have to stress the risk to them in the most age-appropriate manner: School is a temporarily dangerous activity, just like many other things that had previously been totally safe. However, don’t just end the conversation there, as you can’t have your kids thinking that they are powerless in the face of danger. Instead, stress to them that there are measures you can take that can reduce your risk of getting sick and increase the odds of everyone coming through this pandemic unscathed. One of those behaviors, unfortunately, needs to be shifting to remote learning.
2. There’s no shame in asking for help. No parent has all the answers – particularly at this moment. As such, reach out to your school district or a local counseling center for assistance. This can come in the form of videos or guides, and many children’s shows have come out with their own explainers for COVID. Many schools have also developed their own resources that can help parents explain to kids what is going on. Just remember, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help, particularly at this unprecedented moment in world history.
3. Stress the risk to others, not themselves. As it happens, thankfully, it appears that most kids are relatively safe from COVID, even if they were to get it. Obviously, that’s a relief to parents, but it doesn’t help explain to kids why we need to be so careful with them attending school. The reason that many schools have shut down is due to a school’s role in serving as a spreader for pandemics like COVID. As such, when having this conversation with kids, tell them the truth: Even if they are really careful, they can unintentionally infect school teachers, parents, or others. Thankfully, children are naturally empathetic, and this explanation may help them to better understand the risk that attending school may create for others.
4. Emphasize the fun aspects of attending school from home. There are no two ways about it: This part isn’t fun for kids. School from home means less of a chance to interact with people that they care about, like friends and teachers. However, that doesn’t mean that everything has to be bad. Depending on the age of your child, there may be things you can emphasize. They can go to school in their pajamas! They can have a video game lunch! To be clear, you shouldn’t tell your kids that this makes learning from home “worth it” – particularly if they are upset about learning from home. But, as a parent, it is our job to help our kids find that silver lining. So, ask yourself how you can help your child find that lining.
5. Make sure they know this is just temporary. One of the challenges for kids is that they do not have the same sense of time that adults do. As such, they may think that this new change is forever. Thankfully, it’s not. At the moment, there are at least three vaccines on the horizon, and it appears that they will be ready for mass distribution within the next few months. Whether or not the vaccines will be available soon enough for this school year remains to be seen, but it does appear very likely that we should be back to in-person schooling by next year. As such, make sure your kids know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and while you may not know when they will get back to school, there’s no question that it will happen.
6. Make it fun, as best you can. The best thing you can do for your kids is to make this a fun experience for them. There are many ways you can do that. Set up an “office” for them that they can use for school. Create a special area and decorate accordingly. Have them pretend that they are adults, going to work, just like Mom or Dad. This can heighten the sense that they are doing something special. Give them agency over this area – have them set up whatever they want. Give them a chance to establish “rules” while they are at school for example, Dad CANNOT bother me while I am here without my permission! What you do doesn’t matter as much as doing something that can help to make your kid more comfortable with the idea of online learning. Just like almost everything with this pandemic, there’s virtually no win. The best you can do is make the experience as pleasant and manageable as possible for your kids. Following these rules can help to explain the potential danger that your kid’s school may temporarily present to them during the pandemic. It can also help to ensure that their transition to online learning is as smooth and painless as possible.