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    Making your family’s back-to-school decision

    Back-to-school is a frequent topic of conversation for parents, educators and community leaders. In person or virtual? With or without masks? How to keep everyone safe? How to provide the best learning opportunities? These decisions may be causing stress for parents, kids and staff. Your emotions and thoughts may be scattered or overwhelming like the changing information. Take a deep breath and give yourself credit for providing safety and love for your kids throughout this challenging season.

    “The most important piece is for parents to understand it is a tough decision all around,” said Encompass School-Based Therapist Molly Woods. “Schools are facing tough decisions, and we all need to make the best decisions we know how with the information available to us.”

    Each family’s response to back-to-school options will depend on each family’s unique situation. Molly has put together a list of thoughtful questions for caregivers to consider as they make the best choice for their family.

    1. How does your child learn best? Does your child have modifications on their IEP that can not realistically be accessed at home? Do you feel comfortable assisting with completing and helping your child understand the content of their work? Does your child learn best in a hands-on, social way or through packets/remote learning material? How does your child respond to the parent/caregiver also being the teacher?

    2. Are there special medical reasons why having increased potential exposure at school could be extra harmful? Looking at your child and immediate family members, does anyone have at-risk underlying health conditions? Is anyone immuno-compromised? Does an elderly relative rely on immediate family members for care?

    3. Are there mental health concerns for you or your child? Are you or your child experiencing anxiety or depression related to changes with COVID-19? Do you anticipate severe mental-health consequences based on your school decision? Please do not hesitate to reach out as we would be happy to assist in maintaining stable mental health.

    4. Are there necessary resources for your child/family that are best accessed at school and what are the risks to not accessing them? Consider resources such as speech therapy, occupational/physical therapy or food resources. Is childcare attainable for your family if you select a virtual learning option?

    5. Does your family have access to the necessary technology resources to complete virtual learning? If you don’t currently have access, what would it take to make technology available? Is your child’s school providing laptops/hotspots? Is there a location convenient to you that you can obtain internet access?

    6. Are you able/willing to make adjustments with regards to a quarantine following exposure at school? Do you have a plan in place if you or your child is directly exposed or tests positive? How will your child continue schooling if you initially selected in-school learning? Are you able to take time off work during this quarantine? Are there responsibilities that can not be excused during a quarantine (ex. care for pets/property/relatives?

    We encourage you to practice a non-judgmental approach for those who choose differently than you. They may have had other difficult factors to consider.

    “Your kids are going to feed off of your opinions and stance on back-to-school plans, especially masks,” said Molly. “If your child is required to wear a mask for school or personal safety reasons, emphasize the “fun” parts of it and use positive language with them, such as ‘My kid loves her new mask and prefers the kind that goes around the head versus ears.’”

    There are many kinds of masks as well as tips and tricks to make them more comfortable to wear. Here are a few suggestions.

    1. Sew buttons on a baseball cap/hat and loop mask straps around buttons rather than ears.

    2. Attach your child’s mask to a lanyard so that it is always with them.

    3. Special tips for our friends with glasses

    If your child is feeling more anxious than usual about going back to school, here’s a great article from UNICEF on how to help your child manage.

    “COVID-19 may be impacting your child’s mental health, and it’s important to demonstrate that it’s normal and OK to feel overwhelmed at times. When in doubt, empathy and support are the way to go.”

    Check in often with your child to keep open dialogue especially during the back-to-school transition. Continue practicing self-care such as healthy eating, exercises you enjoy, journaling, creative expression and rest. If you or your child needs additional support, please reach out today. Our therapists are ready to come alongside you to develop strategies for back-to-school success.


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