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My Kid’s School is Closed, So Now What?

Supporting your Children’s Social, Emotional, and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Guest Author, Pamela McVeagh-Lally

As the spread of COVID-19 causes more and more school closures across the United States, we, parents and caregivers, are faced with the daunting reality of needing to stay at home with our children for weeks and possibly months. While educators are working hard to prepare take home packets and online resources to support our children’s continued academic learning while schools are closed, intentionally supporting our children’s emotional well-being during these unpredictable and stressful times is our job.

With relentless, confusing media coverage about COVID-19 and discussion about it in our everyday conversations, it is important that we talk to our children about the virus and reassure them that, as disrupting as it may be, schools are closing to help to keep us all healthy and safe. Our role as adults is to offer accurate, age-appropriate information while gently correcting any misunderstandings they may have. Giving your undivided attention and really listening to and empathizing with their fears (while managing and not projecting our own), while being clear about how best to stay safe is essential. And this won’t be a one time conversation. As the situation changes, we’ll need to continue our proactive, honest conversations with our children aimed at keeping them informed but not overwhelmed. National Association of School Psychologists and Child Mind Institute have great resources to guide you.

Setting Up for Success While At Home Together

Other than frequently and empathetically checking in with your kids, what else can you do to support their well-being and maintain a sense of normalcy while they’re out of school (and while you’re attempting to work from home)? Here is a list of ideas to consider for your family:

Create a Family “Coping Kit” To Deal with Anxiety

It is expected that we will experience anxiety during times of uncertainty and stress. One way you can help your child address their anxiety is through building a simple “Coping Kit.” A “Coping Kit” includes practical strategies that empower children to manage difficult feelings productively. Depending on your child’s age and needs, their “Coping Kit” could include:

Finally, children take their emotional cues from us. Being honest about our fears is important to model but we should express our feelings appropriately. How can we find ways to regain calm, and also model and verbalize compassion for others? How can we notice when our stress level is rising to stop, breathe, and use our own coping strategies before responding to our children? Plan ahead for those big feelings and you’ll proceed with confidence that you are ready to handle the stress.

There is no way around it. This moment requires us to dig deep and take deliberate action to make sure we stay mentally healthy for our kids. Even small acts of care for ourselves are important like watching a TV show that makes you laugh, taking two minutes each day to write down something you’re grateful for, or talking honestly and privately about how you feel with a friend. 

Though we may be practicing social distancing, remember to stay in touch with other parents and caregivers to share ideas, seek support, and stay connected!

About the Author:

Pamela McVeagh-Lally is a founding partner of the SEL Consulting Collaborative and a philanthropic and non-profit education consultant, dedicated to helping all children thrive through building the field of social and emotional learning (SEL) and advancing the effectiveness and impact of SEL-focused organizations. Her clients include school districts, state departments of education, grantmaking foundations, multinational education non-profits and start up social and emotional learning organizations. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

*Our hearts go out to the many families who cannot afford to take time off work and are facing major childcare and/or financial dilemmas. 

* CPCK Note: Many thanks to author Pamela McVeagh-Lally for quickly and expertly writing this helpful article to support parents and families during a particularly stressful time!