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By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden – July 22, 2020 –

We have heard so much about the “new normal” over the last few months, but what is that? How are we supposed to make plans for the future when we really don’t know what that looks like yet? And how are we supposed to prepare our kids for a school year filled with so many unknowns?

There are no perfect answers to any of these questions, because we’re still being met with more questions than answers. Instead of focusing on the unknown, the best way to move forward is preparing ourselves for the things we do know.

We know that as of right now schools are planning to open in the fall. This is great news for our kids who have been missing their friends and teachers. However, we also know that it won’t look exactly the same as they’re used to. The CDC guidelines are going to be intense—but they’re a great guide for good conversation with your kids.

You can initiate these conversations right now as you start your normal back to school preparations. Let kids pick out their backpacks and lunchboxes, pencils and glue sticks. If your family is choosing not to go into stores together, your kids will find it just as fun to help fill your digital cart with their school supply choices. This simple activity creates a great opportunity to sit with your kids individually and ask what things they are excited about and nervous about for the coming school year.

In addition to doing the “normal things” like buying school supplies, it’s also important to have frequent conversations about the things that will look dramatically different. One of these is the use of facemasks. It is important that you help your child practice wearing a facemask prior to the start of the school year. Give them time throughout the day where they can practice putting one on or completing a small task while wearing it to get comfortable with this as a new habit.

Talk to your children as well about the things they can do to help ensure they stay healthy during the coming school year. Talk to them about hand washing and objects they shouldn’t be sharing with their friends this year, like their supplies or snacks. If you have a child who likes to bite their nails or chew on their fingers or shirts when they’re anxious, this is a great time to help them start finding healthier coping skills. Explain how their hands have germs and the replacement coping skill is a healthier choice.

The last step to ensuring a positive start to a very different school year is making sure that you are talking about school opening in a positive way. Adults have a hard time with the unknown. We tend to question decisions made by others and express ourselves openly when we disagree. This can be detrimental to your child’s mental health in the start of a new year. If you think schools are doing too much or not enough, have these conversations away from your children.

Your children need to buy in to the changes happening at their school in order to have a successful and fun year. So when you discuss this year’s “new normal” in going back to school, be excited for them, talk positively about the changes, and support the decisions of the administration.