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Every Anxiety-Ridden Question You Have About School This Fall, Answered

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There is no “first day of school” chalkboard big enough to capture the complexities of sending your kids to school — or keeping them home — during a global pandemic. Whether your school is holding in-person or remote classes or a hybrid of the two, whether your school district is offering you an agonizing choice, or your work situation leaves you with no choices, this is incredibly hard for all of us. To help navigate the transition ahead (or, in some parts of the country, already underway), Romper spoke to psychiatrists, psychologists, parenting coaches, educators, therapists, and an infectious disease specialist to answer every anxious question about back to school 2020 that we had heard, and some of our own.

In the hope of making the unmanageable somewhat manageable, we’ve divided the questions into six categories, addressing your mental health, your kid’s mental health, the decision (for those who have it), risk management for in-person schooling, remote learning, and the many hours when there is no school of any kind. It’s… a lot, so take what resonates for your family and leave the rest.

Collecting everything we know all in one place did make us feel a measure of calm and control as we stare down the months ahead. We hope reading through will do the same for you.

Your Mental Health

I feel totally overwhelmed every time I think about my kids going back to school. What’s wrong with me?

Absolutely nothing. In fact, a recent study found that nearly a third of parents have experienced worsening mental health since the pandemic began. “We are in this situation where there are no good choices and there are no good solutions,” says Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist and professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., “and it takes a lot of courage and strength to acknowledge that reality.” Feeling guilt about the way you are feeling or handling this unprecedented situation only makes things harder. Instead, Lakshmin suggests practicing self-compassion for the difficult place you are in, and taking care of yourself as best as you are able. Read on for some ideas.

Violeta Stoimenova, Getty Images

How do I manage my own anxiety about the return to school?

“There is not an easy self-care solution,” says Lakshmin. But here are three ways to approach this moment to help maintain your mental and emotional stability as you go through it.

Keep your focus small. Thinking about what the entire school year might be like, or even the first semester, “is too overwhelming,” says Elizabeth O’Brien, a therapist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, and founder of the Georgia Chapter of Postpartum Support International. Instead, if you can, consider each school announcement and decision as they come, knowing that things may change.

Go easy on social media. If you have a choice in whether or not to send your child to school, O’Brien says, “it’s so easy to go down this obsessive rabbit hole of reading all the data and doom scrolling. You are not really looking for more information; what you’re looking for is some sense of comfort or relief. At some point you have to make a decision.”

Ground yourself in the present moment. Anxiety is always one of two things: ruminating on the past or perseverating on an unknown future. That’s why connecting to the present moment can be so helpful to alleviate it. O’Brien recommends stopping to pay attention to your breath as your chest rises and falls with it. Listen to sounds from birds or the smell of food cooking. Notice if there is any tension in your body, breathe out, and release it. “All of those things work from a physiological perspective,” says O’Brien. Apps like Ten Percent Happier and Insight Timer offer good introductions to mindfulness and easy guided meditations.

Kids’ Mental Health

How can I help my kids get emotionally ready for the return to school?

“Structure really helps kids feel less anxious,” says Katie Hurley, LCSW, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children In a Stressful World. “When kids have been flying by the seat of their pants, it can be hard to get them back into a routine.” Rather than add that struggle to the challenges of the first week of school, introduce a basic routine now. “Get a good old-fashioned whiteboard and have them plan out their day with time for exercise, reading, and downtime,” recommends Hurley.

How can I reset my kid’s sleep schedule for school?

Hurley recommends shifting to the desired schedule at least a month before school starts, if you still have that much time. The goal is for your kids to get the recommended amount of sleep for their age. Brooke Nalle, a sleep consultant and owner of Sleepy on Hudson, suggests starting with the beginning of the day. “You can’t just change their bedtime, because your child won’t be tired enough,” says Nalle. She tells her clients to wake kids a little bit earlier each day. “For a lot of parents, we fall into the trap of letting them sleep so we can get our stuff done,” says Nalle. “Instead, try out the new normal of getting up, showering, and starting the day like you would for school.” As their wake times move earlier, you can shift bedtimes.

Other ways to help your kids fall asleep earlier include reinstituting rules such as no devices an hour before bedtime, making sure they get some kind of physical activity each day so they are tired out, and setting up a basket of favorite books to read (or have read to them) before bed to help calm any return-to-school jitters.

'It’s OK for parents to feel angry and stressed and to not know how you are going to handle this,' says Hurley — 'just not in front of the kids.'

My kids are going back to in-person school. How do I help them not be scared by all the new safety rules?

Find out what your school’s rules will be, “so your child knows what to expect,” advises Franci Crepeau-Hobson, Ph.D., associate professor and director of clinical training in school psychology at the University of Colorado Denver. “Drive them up to the school and say, ‘Everybody’s going to go in this door and have their temperature checked, and will be 6 feet apart, so we won’t have so many germs floating around.’”

Justin Paget, Getty Images

Crepeau-Hobson also encourages parents to get their kids’ perspectives: “Ask them, ‘What have you been hearing? What is your understanding about what’s happening?’ A lot of times, kids have ideas that are scarier than what’s actually going on.” When your kids share their fears, validate them first (“All the news we’ve been hearing has been really scary, hasn’t it?”) and then help them focus on the things they can control such as hand washing, wearing a mask, and keeping good distance from other people. “That’s really empowering when everything feels so out of control,” says Crepeau-Hobson.

How do I deal with my kid’s sadness about how different this school year is?

The first step is to acknowledge your kids’ feelings, whatever they are. “You can say to kids, ‘This is the worst. This stinks,’” says Hurley. You can even help your kids articulate the things they have lost during this pandemic, offers Crepeau-Hobson. Let them talk, and explain that it’s normal to feel sad when you can’t be with your friends or can’t finish the school year with your teacher.

Once your kids have had a chance to share what they’re concerned or sad about, then you can invite them to come up with ways to make things a little better. Ask what they think would help them feel prepared and ready for school. You can also ask if they would like to have a weekly one-on-one chat or group Zoom with a counselor.

How can I use my school counselor to support my child?

Some schools have mental health professionals, such as social workers and school psychologists, who can help kids work through conflict, stress and anxiety, difficulties at home, or problems with learning remotely once school resumes. Other schools may connect parents to mental health resources in the community. Either way, they are there to be a support to students and Crepeau-Hobson recommends reaching out to them if you are concerned that your child is having some challenges behaviorally, socially, or emotionally. If you are heading into the school with a concern about your kid, she suggests contacting them before school starts to give them a heads up that your child may need some support.

My kid has been home with me all summer. How do I help them manage the anxiety of leaving the house?

If your child is starting to worry about leaving the house — or even about you leaving the house — you are in good company. “Every week I hear from kids who are anxious about just going outside,” says Hurley.

“It feels like such a shock to the system, especially if you have been keeping a very closed bubble, to say, ‘OK, we are sending our kid off into the world,’” says Lakshmin. It can be helpful to see this as a transition: “We have been through so many changes in this pandemic if we think back to the way things first felt in March, and we have adapted every step of the way.” Remind yourself (and your child) of how you have come through all of these changes. And O’Brien recommends starting small: “Find safe ways to go outside — even if it’s not around other people — to practice it.”

My kid is terrified of getting COVID. How do I help allay the fear?

If your children are returning to school in person in some form, “show them that you believe in the safety of it,” recommends Hurley. You might say to them, “Your school is putting these measures in place to keep you, your friends, and your teachers healthy,” says Hurley.

And if you find it hard to feel the kind of confidence you are trying to project with your kids, Lakshmin suggests focusing on the positives of your kids going back to school, like the fact that they will get to interact with their friends again. “It’s OK for parents to feel angry and stressed and to not know how you are going to handle this,” says Hurley — “just not in front of the kids.”

I’ve read about the increased rates of anxiety and depression among kids during this pandemic. How do I know if my child needs mental health care?

An April 2020 study in JAMA Pediatrics looked at the mental health of students in China during the COVID-19 outbreak and found elevated levels of depression, but the impact of school closures will vary from child to child. Consider getting a professional evaluation (you can start with your school counselor) if your child has trouble functioning socially, academically, or physically for more than two weeks due to a behavioral or emotional change, says Hurley.

And trust your instincts. Keep your eye out for changes in your child’s eating habits, mood (including explosive outbursts or prolonged tantrums), refusal to participate in school, or how they relate to peers. “Those are all examples of ‘red flags’ that a child needs help,” says Hurley. “There’s no harm in seeking help early, but waiting too long can be detrimental.”

Your school counselor or pediatrician is a good place to start to find mental health support for your child. There is also a list of resources at the end of this article.

Young children are transmitting the virus at much lower rates than adults, but the virus spreads at comparable rates to adults in kids 9 and older.

In-Person School

I’ve heard that kids don’t really get or pass COVID-19 around. Is that true?

Short answer: We don’t have enough data to know.

Longer answer: Young children are transmitting the virus at much lower rates than adults, but the virus spreads at comparable rates to adults in kids 9 and older. “So far, the incomplete data suggest about 90% of the time adults contract SARS-COV2 from another adult,” says Dr. Tim Lahey, M.D., an infectious disease physician and professor at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. A July 2020 Pediatrics review found that only 8% of adult infections came from kids, and for children under 18, severe illness is uncommon. Still, even if they don’t get very sick, children will be interacting with teachers, staff, and family members who are at greater risk for serious illness or even death.

Ultimately, the decision that school boards and states are facing requires balancing the risks of keeping children home (unreported child abuse or neglect, and increased rates of anxiety and depression) with the risk of bringing them together. “That requires us to decide — town by town and family by family — which risk is bigger,” says Lahey.

Are we going to go back only to close again? What happens when someone tests positive?

Different schools will have different plans in place to handle cases of COVID-19. Some schools will have to close following outbreaks. “That’s not the thing to be alarmed by,” Lahey says. “The thing to be alarmed by is if there isn’t a good public health response.”

So far, not many schools have released their plans for positive cases in schools, according to Lanya McKittrick, Ph.D., a research analyst with the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Her organization is tracking the plans of more than 100 school districts across the country. But “having an answer to this question is essential before we open schools,” she says. “Parents should absolutely ask about it.”

When You Have A Choice

Are most schools going back in-person or are most planning on remote learning?

The answer to this question is changing rapidly, with many schools leaning toward a remote model as the pandemic continues to surge. “Things are shifting by the hour,” McKittrick says. As of Aug. 3, more than half of the districts she is tracking had chosen remote learning. And most of those planning for in-person classes are also offering a remote learning option to families.

My school is offering an option between returning in-person or staying remote. How do I even make that decision?

Begin with where you live. “There are states in the country right now, where I think it would be foolhardy to go to school,” says Lahey, “and other states where I think it would be the best thing to do.” In states where “aggressive and successful efforts” have been made to control the spread of the virus and where infections are not rising, going back to school is a much safer choice than in states such as Arizona and Florida, which have seen virus surges, says Lahey.

The New York Times created this interactive map to help you understand the chances that there will be positive cases in schools where you live. The size of the school population and the rates of community transmission where you live will impact the risk to your family.

Imgorthand, Getty Images

The next thing to consider is how at risk your child and family are. This decision will look very different for a family with a child who is immune-compromised or has asthma, or has a family member inside or outside of the house who is at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19. “For high-risk kids in red-zone states or low-risk kids in states where the epidemic is controlled, the answers are clear,” says Lahey. “What’s challenging is when the risks feel pretty evenly matched.” That’s when other factors will play into the decision.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put together a decision-making guide to help families assess and weigh the risks to their family of either in-person or remote school.

What are the most important things schools need to do to minimize risk?

The first thing Lahey wants to see in a school setting is that the school district and leaders are being thoughtful about how to keep kids and staff safe and are planning to track any exposures. Here are the most important measures schools can take, he says:

  • Limiting room occupancy to allow for physical distancing.
  • Having a plan for when, or if, a child or staff member gets sick, including contract tracing.
  • Requiring face masks when and where feasible (it may be more difficult in an elementary school setting), which has a strong effect on reducing virus transmission.
  • Offering outside instruction when possible.
  • Keeping sick people home from school.

Are there national regulations about what kinds of safety protocols schools should have?

Schools are regulated at the state and local level, and the federal government has not introduced any safety requirements. However, the CDC has published guidelines on what the best safety practices are based on the current data. “For the most part, districts are requiring masks for both teachers and students,” says McKittrick, with some exceptions for kids from kindergarten to second grade when they are learning to read. As of the end of July, about a third of districts had ordered protective personal equipment for their employees, and two-thirds of schools were changing building practices such as designating traffic patterns in hallways and staggering classes to minimize student contact between classes. And about half “are talking about changes to transportation and food services,” says McKittrick. To see the latest information, visit the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

How do I explain the decision to my kids?

Hurley is seeing a lot of parents involving their children in decisions about returning to school, which she says is “way too much pressure” for most kids. If your children are in high school, then it might make sense to involve them a little bit, but otherwise, says Hurley, it’s your call to make and then share with your kids.

If you opt for remote learning, Hurley recommends telling your child something like, “We are trying our best to get you back to school as soon as possible because we know that it’s best for you to be back in the classroom, but we also know that the safest option is for you to do distance learning until things get a little bit better.”

If your child will be going to in-person school, the best thing you can do is empower them with good information to keep themselves safe and show them that you have confidence in the school’s safety procedures. You can tell your child, “All the grown-ups at your school are making sure school is going to be safe so you can go back and won’t have to worry as much,” says Crepeau-Hobson. “Don’t make false promises, but let them know that everybody is taking the steps they need to keep us safe and healthy.”

Are schools still requiring up-to-date vaccinations for kids returning to school in person?

The CDC is encouraging parents and families to continue regularly-scheduled medical care to keep up to date on kids’ vaccinations. It cautions that a drop in the number of vaccine doses being administered leaves children more vulnerable to preventable diseases.

Remote Learning

Everyone I know is creating learning pods. Should I be doing that?

“Learning pods,” in which a smaller group of kids learn together at home, can take many forms, from two neighbors swapping days when they watch the kids at home to formal groups with paid instructors. Some have even been dubbed “microschools” and are receiving a lot of criticism for leaving out the most at-risk kids.

If you cannot be home with your child during school, or you can be home but not available to support them (and they are too young to direct their own learning), then some kind of child care like a “pod” may be a necessity. “I’d encourage parents to reach out and advocate for their school leaders to help them with this,” says Michael Barbour, Ph.D., associate professor of instructional design for the College of Education and Health Sciences at Touro University California in Vallejo. “The more coordinated we can make these situations, it’s not going to just be good for the kids, but for the school in general.”

Cavan Images, Getty Images

Few school districts are tackling the project of organizing smaller groups, so in most cases parents are coordinating. If you need to find a small learning/child care support group for your child, here are a few tips from Danya Maloon, education manager of Learning Pods ATL in Atlanta:

  • Look for local families who have kids similar in age.
  • Find out which families have the biggest spaces that will allow for social distancing.
  • Make an agreement about what the rules of the space will be (masks, distance between learning spaces, etc.).
  • Use outdoor space when possible, because you are least likely to transmit the virus out of doors.
  • Arrange for different families to take turns hosting or consider hiring a learning facilitator if that is financially possible.
  • Think outside the box when it comes to hiring a facilitator. There may be retired teachers or paraprofessionals in your area, but Maloon is also hiring educators from non-traditional platforms, such as a woman in charge of the education program at an aquarium.
  • If you do hire a learning facilitator, pay for a background check and pay them a fair wage.
Use the school community — rather than just your personal network — to build smaller learning groups.

How can I set up a pod without disadvantaging other kids?

There are already very deep inequities in the level of education that different communities and populations receive in the U.S., and experts agree that COVID-19 is only exacerbating them. It is also true that often when society fails families, mothers are relied on to make up the difference. “It’s very hard to be equitable when you are working within a realm of broken systems,” says Maloon, “which is not to say it isn’t important, but I’m wary of how these things usually land on moms.” The outspoken criticism of pods is making many parents feel guilty as they try to plan for the fall.

“You’ve got people who have connections and who are well-off or are extroverts who can make these things happen,” says Christine Case-Lo, a mom of two in Mountain View, California. “But that’s not a lot of people.”

When Case-Lo, who is immunocompromised, decided to create a learning pod with another family that has a child who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, she realized that many people in her 8-year-old’s diverse, bilingual school population would be left out. “I made a Facebook group just for my school and created a bilingual survey,” she explains; out of 600 families, 42 have responded. Case-Lo is connecting those families to others with kids in the same grade and helping them think through issues related to sharing a learning space and being in other people’s homes — such as guns in the home, liability issues, and teaching kids about sexual predators and how to protect themselves. “I stay up worrying about these things at night,” says Case-Lo.

She also knows that kids with special needs, like her older son who has autism, will be left out of pods. Her advice to parents seeking to do what they can to address issues of equity is to use the school community — rather than just your personal network — to build smaller learning groups. “It’s not perfect, but if you are using your school community, it doesn’t exacerbate the inequities that already exist.”

How can I help my kid with remote learning? Last spring was a disaster.

“Most schools did not roll out distance learning seamlessly in the spring because it was not distance learning. It was crisis learning,” says Hurley. “Now, schools have been spending summer preparing for distance learning, so they have contingencies in place.”

That is not to say it will all go smoothly. “Most districts really haven’t done as much as they could have or should have over the past few months to prepare not just their teachers, but also their parents, for what could be coming,” says Barbour. In the past few weeks, McKittrick has seen a big increase in specific plans for remote learning, and many of them include live instruction, which was largely missing in the spring.

However prepared your school is or isn’t, there are a few things you can do to get ready.

Before school starts:

Create a designated learning space that is consistent and not where your kid usually plays. You don’t have to have an office, or even a desk; you can use the kitchen table, as long as it becomes the official learning spot in your home, Barbour says.

Dana Rosenbloom, a parenting coach who works with New York City families in tiny apartments, has had clients use breakfast-in-bed trays near a wall to create a mini floor desk. “Designating an area is really going to help a child shift into the mentality to be ready for learning.”

Ask your kids what helps them learn. You can drive yourself nuts scrolling through all the color-coded schedules and whiteboard pics on Instagram and still not see something that will work for your kid. So, ask them what helps them stay on task in school. What things did their teacher do before the pandemic that helped them to stay organized and know what was coming next during the school day?

Connect with your child’s new teacher. Once you have your child’s class assignment, reach out to your teacher and ask how they would like you (and your child) to be in touch with questions and concerns. Suggest that your child (with your help if necessary) send a note introducing themselves so they create a connection even before that first awkward Zoom call.

Find out if your school will have a help desk for any difficulties you run into with technology. Some districts, such as Seattle Public Schools and Mesa School District in Arizona, are creating helplines and parent navigators to help parents, says McKittrick.

Adjust your expectations. Kids do not spend every minute of their time in school learning. A lot of time is spent transitioning between activities and classrooms. So, don’t expect your child to be focused and on the computer for five and a half hours. “We all have to give everybody room to be doing the best we can on any given day,” advises Rosenbloom. “Sometimes your kids are only going to make it though part of the school day and that’s going to have to be enough for that day.”

During school:

Have your kid get up and move every 15 to 20 minutes. “Nobody can pay attention longer than that,” says Crepeau-Hobson. “Your brain starts to fall asleep.” Sites like GoNoodle and CosmicKids offer short, fun physical breaks for kids. Also try to get them outside for longer periods of physical activity. “There’s a reason why elementary schools have two classes and then recess followed by lunch, recess, and another two classes,” says Barbour.

Give your child some independence and space. “There may be a tendency to be in the room and be on top of the child when they are doing the learning,” says Rosenbloom, but peer relations are increasingly important as children get older. “Children tend to have a separate identity at school, so there is really something to be said for giving your child some space so they can experience that.” And then, when you do step in to offer support, says Rosenbloom, your kids will be more receptive.

Be patient. “Don’t worry about content for the first week and a half of school,” recommends Barbour. Everyone is adjusting to a new way of teaching, learning, and parenting. Instead, Barbour recommends spending that time figuring out how your kids can learn in this new environment. “That’s going to require some trial and error. It’s not like you are going to sit down for a day and plan all this out and day one it’s going to work perfectly,” Barbour says. “There are going to be days when your child is not going to make that much progress, and it’s not your child’s fault.”

My child has an individualized education plan (IEP). How can I make sure their needs are being addressed with remote learning?

Remote learning during spring did not go well for many children with IEPs. “This is what keeps me up at night,” says McKittrick, who has two children who are deaf-blind and two who have ADHD. In addition to tracking what school districts across the country are doing to prepare for the return to school, her organization, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, is also looking at how they are going to be meeting the needs of specific populations. And so far, she has not seen many detailed plans for supporting kids with IEPs. McKittrick is telling parents, “If nobody is reaching out to you, you should be reaching out and say, 'I want to set up an IEP meeting as soon as possible and start the communication.’”

Carol Yepes, Getty Images

“Let them know you need to put plans in place,” says McKittrick. “I’ve talked to parents who learned a lot in the spring. We need to be sharing those experiences with the whole team. Reach out to the principal and ask, ‘Can you tell us specifically what your plan is for students with disabilities?’ As a parent, I need information in order to plan for our family.”

What if my kid is struggling with online school?

“Don’t hesitate to ask for help," says Rosenbloom. “Use your child’s teacher as a resource. They got into this field to be responsive to individual children and their learning needs. They want this to be successful for your child.” And if the approach your school is taking is just not working for your child, talk with the teacher and school about it, recommends Crepeau-Hobson. “You know your child best.”

Rosenbloom suggests we use this moment to begin expanding our definitions of 'achievement' and 'success.'

What if my kid is really behind?

The reality is that many will begin this school year more behind than normal. (Typically, kids lose some learning progress during what is known as the “summer slide.") Using data from other big interruptions in learning (such as Hurricane Katrina), the Brookings Institute came up with a model to estimate the effects of interrupted learning in the spring. The researchers concluded that students may be “substantially behind” when they enter school this fall, especially in math, and that there may be a greater variability in student readiness to learn than at the normal start of a school year. The greatest risk of these kinds of learning losses is that they can exacerbate the educational inequalities that already exist between different student populations. “Schools must rethink how they serve students and focus on accelerated learning to close those gaps,” says McKittrick.

On an individual family level, McKittrick thinks it’s a good idea to ask your school what its plan is for assessing any learning losses.

More broadly, Rosenbloom suggests we use this moment to begin expanding our definitions of “achievement” and “success.” “When we look at later life success and where the world is going, so much of it is about social skills, emotional regulation, the ability to collaborate, and to be resilient,” says Rosenbloom. “We have an opportunity to make that happen as an area of growth right now, and to really support our children as they go through this.”

At Home & After School

Can my kid participate in sports?

“It really depends on the sport,” says Lahey, and what the virus is doing where you live. “Football, basketball, and other contact sports in places where COVID is out of control are nuts, and a great way to exacerbate the epidemic.” Cross country, tennis, soccer, and baseball, in which participants can be far apart and outside, may be good options for helping your child stay physically active while reducing the likelihood of COVID-19 exposure, he says. “If your kid's career has been focused on football, maybe this year it’s time for them to become a two-sport athlete.”

Catherine Falls, Getty Images

How much safer is it to have our kids interact outside versus inside?

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads through the air, and is most easily transmitted in poorly-ventilated areas. “Moving activities outdoors is a great way to mitigate risk,” says Lahey, but outdoor transmission does occur, “so it still makes sense to wear a mask if it’s impractical to stay more than 6 feet away from people.”

Do we have to stop seeing the grandparents again?

Choosing to see grandparents or other older relatives is another decision that really depends on your family’s specific situation. Attending school in person does increase the chance that your child could expose vulnerable family members to the virus. How much it increases the risk is not known. Emily Oster, Ph.D., a professor of economics at Brown University who likes to dig deep into research on risks in all kinds of areas, has created a very helpful framework to help families make these exact choices.

What are some safe ways I can help my kids connect with peers?

For younger kids, outdoor play dates with social distancing can be a great way for them to connect, including “bike rides with one friend or playground games that can be altered to a few friends, 6 feet apart with masks,” says Hurley. And with their high level of comfort with technology, “many kids are finding creative ways to connect online. I’ve seen kids create baking clubs, art clubs, and knitting groups over Zoom and Google Hangouts,” says Hurley. Rosenbloom suggests having your kids do online hangouts with a planned activity, like a “Lego challenge, cooking together, a scavenger hunt, or playing a game.”

Hurley is most worried about social isolation when it comes to tweens and teens. “Make sure they are connecting with other kids,” says Hurley. “I know parents are so worried about kids being on devices, but don’t worry about the time on digital media, worry about the meaningfulness. Social connections are meaningful.”

And don’t forget the analog option. “Writing letters to peers or extended family can help kids feel connected,” says Hurley, “and creating photo collages that include friends, teachers, and family can be powerful reminders that support is still there even when we feel alone.”

Mental Health Resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) answers calls 24/7, is confidential, and can connect you and your family to local, professional support.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

For teens, there are several hotlines nationwide staffed by teens who are trained in peer support, including Teen Line, Safe Place, The Trevor Project (which supports LGBTQ youth in mental health crisis), and the Jed Foundation.

Experts:

Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., clinical assistant professor, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, the George Washington University School of Medicine

Elizabeth O’Brien, therapist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of the Georgia Chapter of Postpartum Support International

Katie Hurley, LCSW, child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children In a Stressful World and The Depression Workbook for Teens

Brooke Nalle, sleep consultant and owner of Sleepy on Hudson

Franci Crepeau-Hobson, Ph.D., associate professor and director of clinical training in school psychology at the University of Colorado Denver

Lanya McKittrick, Ph.D., research analyst with the Center on Reinventing Public Education

Dr. Tim Lahey, M.D., infectious disease physician and professor at the University of Vermont Medical Center

Danya Maloon, education manager of Learning Pods ATL

Michael Barbour, Ph.D., associate professor of instructional design for the College of Education and Health Sciences at Touro University California

Dana Rosenbloom, parenting coach

Studies referenced:

Patrick, S.,Henkhaus, L., Zickafoose, J., Lovell, K., Halvorson, A., Loch, S. (2020) Well-being of Parents and Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A National Survey. Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2020-016824

Xie, X., Xue, Q., Zhou, Y., et al (2020) Mental Health Status Among Children in Home Confinement During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak in Hubei Province, China. JAMA Pediatrics, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2765196

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