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The decision to have your child attend physical or virtual school is difficult for any family, but separated families may face additional complications during this process. In an environment where communication may already be strained, families experiencing separations and/or divorce may encounter high stress and anxiety. Effective and healthy communication is vital to the health and wellbeing of your children during this COVID-19 season. In order to assist you and your family’s journey through this transitional period, we recommend utilizing the acronym “APPLES” to help get your children (and yourself!) ready for the school year.
Acknowledge the fears of both parents and children. We understand that parents have different views and opinions of physical and virtual schooling. Recognize that you, your co-parent, and/or child may have some anxiety about going back to school. If there is conflict on the type of schooling for your child, we recommend having open discussions. Co-parents must listen to each other and to their child in order to determine the most appropriate type of schooling. For young children, Sesame Street produces videos that help children express their feelings in a healthy manner. Click here to watch one of their videos.
Prepare children for what they can expect when going back to school (in person or virtually). If your child is going back to school in person, discuss and practice what will happen when school starts. Discussion topics can include the importance of wearing masks and maintaining social distancing from friends and teachers, washing hands, how they feel about going back to school, and understanding that some friends may/may not be at school. Massachusetts’s Department of Mental Health has a great “back to school” social story template that you can use to prepare your child for school during COVID-19.
For those attending school virtually, the same discussion topics are important. We would encourage adding a discussion on why your child is not attending school in person and asking your child how they feel about that. It’s important to have an ongoing conversation with your child on what COVID-19 is and how your child feels about it. We want to ensure that children receive enough information so they feel empowered, but not too much information where they are in fear. San Diego County has some great resources that help talk to your children about COVID-19.
Check out this helpful video from San Diego Family Mediation Center on how co-parents can develop a new co-parenting plan in light of alternative school formats this year.
We understand that scheduling is a commonly source of frustration for families experiencing separation or divorce; however, familiarity, structure and routines are important to the mental and physical health of children. Continue to communicate and work with your co-parent to create and maintain a schedule so that your child can have consistency during this period of uncertainty. Note that structure looks different for children of various ages and learning capabilities; therefore, schedules and routines should be adjusted to the needs of your child. Check out this link from the CDC for tips on how to build structure.
Continually staring at a screen is strenuous for both adults and children. If your child is with you during this period, take “recess” together! Go for a walk, do brief fitness challenges, do a meditation/prayer/breath break, color, or attend “PE” with your child if they are attending virtual school. Continue to eat healthy, exercise, and get adequate sleep for both you and your child. Both your child’s health and yours are important!
Keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety in you and your child. COVID-19 is a stressful for everyone. Maintain lines of communication with your co-parent so you may be more aware if your child is showing signs of stress and anxiety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers articles on behavioral changes to watch out for in adults, children and teens.
To understand what some youth may go through, check out the video “Numb” made by Liv McNeil, a 9th grader, on feelings of isolation during quarantine. It is a powerful video and only 3 minutes and 22 seconds, and it may give you a glimpse of what some youth are experiencing.
We understand that this is a total business buzzword, but it fits for family life! This is the time for co-parents and children to cooperate and work together in order to create an environment that will support not only your child’s mental health and education but will be beneficial to your lives as well. There are a lot of stressors due to COVID-19 and friction between family members is an added burden. We know it’s difficult, but try to maintain healthy communication with your co-parent and child and find productive ways to convey thoughts and feelings with each other.
This may seem overwhelming, but remember to take a deep breath and know that you have got this! We at Kids’ Turn San Diego commend and applaud you for your perseverance and dedication to your children during these uncertain times. If you want to improve communication skills with your co-parent and/or child, please check out one of our virtual Kids’ Turn San Diego Family Workshops! We teach healthy communication skills for both parents and your child. Click here for more information about our virtual program.