Back to School: Be Kind to Yourself

By Peg Dawson, Ed.D, NCSP

As the new school year dawns, chances are you’re filled with trepidation. Sending your child back into a classroom in the midst of a global pandemic is cause for high anxiety; so is keeping him home without friends to socialize with, a structure and teachers to keep him on track, and recess to blow off steam. If this causes chest pains, shortness of breath, or full-blown panic as you decide how to navigate your kids’ schooling while you’re doing all the other things you have to do to keep your lives stitched together during this challenging time, you are not alone.

While we can’t make COVID disappear, we can offer some words of reassurance:

  • Despite being thrown into home-schooling last spring, it is still largely uncharted waters for everyone—teachers, parents, and kids, alike. It’s a work-in-progress, and none will get it perfect this time around either. So cut yourself some slack, use some positive self-talk (“We will survive,” “Perfect is not the goal here”), and as you fall into bed at night, pat yourself on the back for getting through the day.
  • Your job is to be a parent, not a teacher. If you provide a place for your child to work and some structure to help her spend some time productively, then you are doing your job.
  • Even if you are able to give kids the place and structure they need to get work done, it will take a few days for kids to adjust to a new way of schooling. At the end of the day, if you can, take a few minutes to debrief with your child. What worked well today? What didn’t work? What should we do differently tomorrow?
  • Keep in mind that stress shortens fuses, increases irritability, and undermines our ability to access skills and strengths that under normal circumstances we may have in abundance. On top of that, kids pick up on the stress level of the adults around them even when those adults are trying to hide that stress. If everyone in your house seems to be out of sorts, this is a normal response to an abnormal situation.
  • Some things are more important than school. If you feel like things are coming apart at the seams, give yourself permission to let some things slide. If you have in your head an image of the “perfect parent” and you don’t fit that description (and NO ONE DOES), then set it aside. Doing what you can to keep your family intact is way more important than making sure your kids fit in their 120 minutes of daily lessons (or whatever your child’s school is recommending).
  • Finally, some words of advice: Rather than reinvent the wheel, we found some pointers from a home-schooling mom written to provide some useful guidance. Here’s the link:

Dawson is a psychologist at the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders, in Portsmouth, NH, and a member of the Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board.