It goes without saying that all of us have been negatively impacted by the Covid virus and the media and political firestorm that has ignited as a result of the virus.
Some of us have lost jobs or have had businesses shut down, some of us are isolated and unable to connect with others, some of us have heightened anxiety based on what we have seen on the news, and others of us are simply exhausted and tired of the conflicting data and contradictions. As adults, we understand that life can be difficult, and we are gifted with various coping mechanisms that allow us to endure and persevere. We can disconnect ourselves from the news and social media, and we have lived long enough to realize that this too shall pass with time.
Our students, on the other hand, have a more limited perspective and fewer coping skills. They have been inundated over the past five months with fear-mongering on social media, cancelations of school and sports, confusing and contradictory mandates from all sorts of adults, and anxiety within their own homes. If we as adults feel as though we have lost some control of our lives through this hysteria, we need to take a moment and step into the shoes of our students to realize how dizzying daily life has become.
With our youngest child going into grade 8, we do not have ‘littles’ in our home anymore. But my heart goes out to the kindergarten or first grade student who may struggle with the first day of school because it is a big step in a little person’s life. If we add anxiety and fear related to the Covid virus to this process, some students will be overwhelmed and shut down.
As the new school year approaches, parents, school teachers / administrators and politicians need to be cognitive of the mental and emotional well-being of our students, while at the same time keeping them physically safe.
Most of the local school districts have announced their re-opening plans, and all of those plans include the widest possible array of safety measures. These measures are important and necessary, but how parents, teachers / school officials, and politicians present these ‘changes’ to the students will make all the difference in whether or not our students make a healthy transition to the new reality.
This messaging certainly begins at home. In spite of the anxiety or pressures we as parents may be dealing with during this frustrating time, we must shield our students to the extent that we are able. As every living human on the planet is now intimately familiar with the Covid virus, less information may be better than more information moving forward. As all students in Wisconsin will be required to wear a mask for the first month of school, try to make it a fun, new experience for your younger students. Spend the extra money on a personalized mask, or wear masks around the house while playing together. Let your student know that there is no danger to them if they do contract the virus, but they are wearing the mask to keep older adults like grandma and grandpa safe. If you are upset that your student is required to wear a mask, do not share that with your child as at this point, Governor Evers’ mandate requires it.
We have noticed on many school district press releases that much discussion will be had with students reviewing the daily safety requirements and impressing upon them the importance of following the new guidelines. As most students need to hear new information a number of times before it sinks in, this strategy definitely makes sense. However, the tone with which this message is shared with the students can assist our students to thrive in spite of the chaos, or, on the other hand, can heighten anxiety and cause them to recoil further within themselves. Apocalyptic death sermons are not an appropriate strategy to cajole students into following the new directives. Smiling faces (behind the masks), positive reinforcement, and a ‘let’s work together to keep everyone safe’ attitude will keep our students safe physically and healthy emotionally and mentally.