By Lakiesha Russell
Child and family therapist at Children’s Wisconsin
As a parent, you’ve probably been faced with the difficult decision regarding your child going back to school — whether that’s in-person at school or from home. These decisions can bring about stress, anxiety and disappointment as you try to do what is best for your child. It is likely your child is feeling that, too. That is exactly why it’s so important to talk to your kids about going back to school. Not just about supplies or schedules, but about their feelings.
That’s why Children’s Wisconsin is asking parents to engage in back-to-school conversations with their kids to help identify any anxieties associated with returning to school during COVID-19. As part of our new Shine Through awareness campaign, Children’s Wisconsin is asking every parent of a school-aged child to have these important conversations. We’re calling it the #ShineThroughPledge and we are inviting you to participate and help raise awareness in social media.
Starting the conversation
Even before the pandemic, Wisconsin was among a handful of states that have the highest number of youths reporting major depressive episodes. That’s scary. And as parents, we want to be able to have conversations with our kids about everything, but sometimes we might struggle to know where to start with the tough conversations.
A great way to start is with open-ended questions, or questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. Simply asking these questions, like “how do you feel about wearing a mask while at school?” or “how do you think school will be different this year?” can start a great conversation.
Continuing the conversation
As parents, we often want to tell our kids what to think or even how to behave. However, with these kinds of conversations, it is okay to allow your child the opportunity to share their feelings and thoughts without interrupting. And remember, this is an ongoing conversation. We encourage you to have the conversation now about going back to school, and also continuing that conversation once school starts. Ongoing conversation will help you assess how your child is feeling about changes they may be seeing at school.
Asking for help
It’s okay to seek help with having these tough conversations. A professional like a therapist, or even a family member or trusted friend, can help give you some techniques and tips.
We’ve also put together some ideas and suggestions about how to talk to your child about back to school at shinethrough.childrenswi.org.
The #ShineThroughPledge is just one step of a multiyear effort. Over the next five years, Children’s Wisconsin has a plans to address the urgent mental and behavioral health needs of kids and improve access to therapists.
We hope these resources are helpful. When you can, take a step back to take stock on how you are doing. It is difficult to help others, including your children, spouses and extended family, if you don’t take care of yourself.
If you have a concern about your child’s mental or behavioral health, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation with your child’s doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, call 2-1-1 and an operator can direct you to the nearest community health clinic or other needed resources.
Remember, every family is different and will make their own decision. Keep making decisions with the information you have at the time and adjust as needed. We are all doing the best we can.