- Alex's Advice
- School Smarts
Remember when you were a child and the forecast called for snow? That feeling of awesome anticipation, of excited uncertainty, about what the next day would bring?
In those days, a change from routine was welcomed with open arms and big cheers. Today, a similar anticipation and uncertainty keeps us parents up at night for completely different reasons.
The threat (or reality) of school closures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic has hung over the 2020-2021 school year since it started -- and right now, as we enter the holiday season, many schools and colleges across the country are closing their doors once again and transitioning into virtual learning.
If your child is currently in the classroom, you’re probably wondering how long it will last. If your child’s school has closed … you’re probably also wondering how long it will last. And because the answer to both of those worries is “we don’t know,” that uncertainty can make it hard for us to speak with our kids about the future, especially if our children are also diagnosed with complex challenges and learning differences.
Here at The Quaker School at Horsham, we were lucky enough to begin this school year in the classroom, with stringent social distance, health, and safety protocols in place. Our students were able to reconnect with teachers and classmates, adjust back into a routine, and sooth a bit of the anxiety that has pervaded life since last spring.
However, before the Thanksgiving holiday we learned that our local government was shutting down all schools and requiring students to transition back to fully virtual learning. For our population of students, any disruption in routine can be a difficult hurdle, and many of our parents were left wondering, “How should I talk to my child about this latest school closure? How do I let them know they won’t be returning to school next week?”
Here are our top tips for preparing your child with complex challenges for new school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic:
#1: Check your own emotions.
In the same way an airline attendant reminds you to put on your own oxygen mask first in an emergency, before helping your family members, we want to remind you to first check in with yourself, your stressors, and your emotions during this difficult time.
Parenting a child with special needs is tough during normal situations, so stress is sure to be heightened right now. By acknowledging and naming your emotions, you can better stay calm and present for your child. (And feel free to cry, punch pillows, scream, or do whatever helps when you are alone or with a spouse! Just keep your conversations calm around your child.)
#2: Be direct and clear.
Once you have your own emotions under control, it’s time have a direct conversation with your child. Avoid euphemisms that may cause confusion. Keep it simple, and be ready to provide clear explanations.
Saying something like, “Jamal, I am sorry to say that school will be closed for two weeks and you will be virtual learning again,” is a good place to start. If you have timelines, dates, and concrete information, share that with your child as well.
#3: Don’t speculate.
Here in Montgomery County, PA, the health department informed us that all schools are only virtual for two weeks. The question I hear the most from parents and teachers is, “Do you think we will be allowed back in two weeks?” I respond with, “December 6 is the date the health department gave me.” I share the facts that I have, and I don’t guess at what I cannot predict.
Model the same behavior with your children. Only share the information you know is true, and do not speculate about what might happen in the future because that will only heighten their frustrations and anxieties.
#4: Use a Social Story.
One of my favorite tools for helping children with complex challenges adjust to uncertain situations is to use Carol Gray’s Social Story framework. It’s a way to describe a context, skill, achievement, or concept to a child before the child actually faces the situation.
In this instance, consider creating a Social Story to help you child prepare for the closure. Repeat readings of the story will help them feel less anxious about the event when it finally occurs.
Those are four ways to help your child overcome uncertainties around school closures -- but we want to hear from you! How are you talking to your child with complex challenges about school changes? Add your tips to the comments below, or join our conversation on Facebook.