This one's for the parents.  I won't beat around the bush, this school year is going to be tough. As much as we all dealt with this in the Spring, it's a new ballgame this year and still so many unknowns. There are no perfect answers and no "right" answers, just current 'best' answers based on previous experience. Previous behavior is the best predictor of future behavior is something I learned in Graduate School. I think that might be relevant this Fall in anticipating how your kid might manage what this year could bring.

If you don't know, I am a licensed mental health therapist. I have spent my career working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings and most recently as a therapist in a school setting, which is different than a school social worker. I gotta tell ya, in my experience schools are funny places. Microcosms of little cultures and traditions that can sometimes be hard enough to navigate in person, let alone virtually. Don't get me wrong, there are so many amazing teachers, paras, administrators that are passionate about educating and supporting youth. It can be a complicated landscape and this year will be no different. I wanted to pass along a few things to think about for this upcoming year.

*DISCLAIMER* Nothing in this post is a replacement for advice from a therapist, psychiatrist, skills worker or physician. This should not be used to treat your child if they have a mental health diagnosis or usurp advice given by any of the above supports named.

We good? Ok.


Look, most of us aren't teachers or educators. Don't expect to be a teacher or your kid to suddenly be great at teaching themselves. There is a lot of pressure now to be the best student so you can go to the best college and have the best job. It's too much pressure and (unpopular opinion) a four-year degree isn't the only way to succeed. Also, every other family is in the same boat as you. Lots of parents are worried that their kid is going to get behind, but everyone else is managing the same situation so we are all in this together. I know it's easier said than done, but adjusting to a new way of life is hard for us all. You're learning and so is you're kid. Give yourself and them some grace. More grace is better these days.


In general, structure is good for us all. Our brains crave structure, it works best with some level of predictability and patterns. Everyone is a little different, some needing more/less, but we all need it to some degree. Establish what works best for you and your kid. This all could depend on how distance learning is structured for your child's school, if they are better in the mornings or afternoons. It works well if you also find time to take appropriate breaks. I usually encourage kids and families that breaks are 15-30 minutes, no longer. Longer than 30 minutes isn't a break, it's avoidance. Also, no naps. It's tempting to do that during the day but it messes up your sleep cycle and you almost always sleep longer than you intended. Most full cycles of sleep are about 3 hours, so waking up sooner makes you feel more tired, not less. 

Depending on your child's age including them in making the daily schedule would be helpful as it might increase engagement and follow-through in it. However, as an adult you can use your adult brain to have final say in what it should look like, i.e. not doing all their school work at night when they don't have access to their teachers. As a side note, there has been a lot of writing about 'zoom fatigue.' Something about video conferencing all day is more exhausting so if they need more breaks that's ok.  One more thing, if your kid gets off schedule one day it's ok. Refer to rule 1 and try again tomorrow.


This may seem obvious, but this is an incredibly stressful time. Remember March? 5 years ago at this point. It's strange to think back on where we thought we'd be come September and where we actually are. Information is changing all the time and new direction is being given often so it's hard to keep up. So this one is kind of a two-fer. There is something to be said for the 'it takes a village' mentality. It would be good to identify who are your social supports and your kids. Parents? Grandparents? Family friends? Whoever they might be you'll need them for moral support or academic support. Don't be afraid to ask for help. No one expects you to know everything. I'm gonna say this again for the people in the back "Ask for help. It is not your job to know everything." 

It's also good to know the supports in your school building. Working in schools it was always fascinating to me how many people didn't know about the student support services that were available to them. Granted every school is a little different as well as grade level supports, but utilize however your school is doing back to school nights to familiarize yourself with these staff members. Social workers are a fairly standard support. They are master's level educated and can do some skills work or provide basic supports for students with higher stressors or behavioral concerns. They are also sometimes a good resource for things you need the in the community like food, transportation, therapy services etc. Guidance counselors are more focused on how to support academics. Such as getting supports in classroom, helping talk with teachers, making plans to get caught up on school work. They are also master's level educated and provide some basic supports for students stressors, mental health or behavioral concerns but will refer out when it becomes more chronic. A school psychologist is not a therapist. They mostly do testing for individual education plans and make recommendations for what type of in-school support your student may qualify for. Many schools in Minnesota also have therapists operating in the school. They are not school staff but work in the building and provide the same service you would get in an outpatient clinic but they meet with your child during the school day and can be collaborative with your child's school.  Trust me, use these people. Especially this year, they're here to help. Also, kids do better if there is at least one person in the school they trust. It doesn't matter which staff member that is, as long as they feel like one person has their back it makes a difference.  


Your kids are going to ask questions about all the changes. A couple good rules of thumb are a good place to start. Don't answer questions they didn't ask. As adults we know more things and want to give them all the information, that's too overwhelming. Kids need time to process so answer what they ask and wait for them to come back with more. Let them know it's ok to ask questions and if you don't know you'll do your best to find out. Also, answer questions in a developmentally appropriate way. I'm going to answer questions about COVID and all the information differently to an 8-year-old than a 17-year-old. What words can they understand? How can I make it make sense to them? I might go into more detail with my 17-year-old, versus something a bit more simple for my 8-year-old. Secondly, it is ok to bring things up and correct misconceptions when you hear it. I always encourage coming from a place of curiosity "I heard you say ___ about COVID, I'm wondering where you heard that? What do you know about the virus?" Then go from there. These conversations are hard and they are looking to us, so be honest with what you know and what you don't. 


The old adage is true here. Not only is this tough for our kids but we are all struggling too with the reality of all the unrest this year. Kids are always watching and see how you are handling it. If we want our kids to stay regulated we have to too. This means taking care of yourself, this means having them see you do it. This means you manage your stress in a healthy way. If you're irritable they'll learn it. Either they will be angry too or they'll internalize it and not want to bother you with their stressors. It's our job to regulate as best we can because it's harder for our kids' little brains, but they learn it from us. With my daughter, who is 3, I lose my cool sometimes. Mostly I try to take a deep breath when she is tantruming, to bring my voice low and slow when hers is high and fast. These basic deescalating skills will help us all.  This doesn't mean you can't have bad moments, but see number 3 for those days.


Everyone is worried about managing tech time right now. We've all heard about limiting screen time an the concerns of too much. As someone who is equally worried about spending a lot of time talking to kids about their technology and reducing dependence I'm here you tell you: chill out. For a lot of kids tech is their only connection to school or friends. It might be their only outlet right now, don't take it from them. We can correct this when the pandemic is over or as society opens up more. I know that sounds silly, but it is possible to course correct when it's over.  It's ok to have some limits still such as needing to complete tasks before free wheeling video games all night long, taking phones/computers/tablets at night. But for the most part kids kind of need this right now to stay connected and to cope. It's ok that they are leaning on it more so than usual. 

I hope some of these pieces are helpful. I could probably go on and on but this is long enough for now. Let me know if this is helpful an if you'd like more content like this.