The old saying, “caught between a rock and a hard place,” could never be more apropos than now as parents try to prepare themselves and their children for the 2020/2021 School Year. “As if parents don’t have enough to think about regarding their child’s safety and health, the anxiety, guilt, worry and frustration is dramatically increasing as they try to cope with COVID-19 and making decisions on behalf of their children in such uncertain times,” said Karla Willis, Mental Health Counselor.
EFFECTIVE August 1, 2020 It was announced that due to a significant increase in cases of COVID-19, state-wide, Governor Evers, has issued a public health emergency, which was effective August 1, requiring face coverings. Under this order: • Wisconsin residents ages five and older are required to wear a face-covering when they are indoors or in an enclosed space with anyone outside their household or living unit. • Face coverings are strongly recommended if you are outdoors and maintaining physical distancing is not possible. • Exceptions to the requirement include when an individual is eating, drinking, or swimming. • Individuals with health conditions or disabilities that would preclude the wearing of a face-covering safely are also exempt from the requirement. Whether this mandate is still in effect at the start of school or not, for everyone’s safety, many parents, teachers, and schools may require face masks to be worn in the classroom. So, now, in addition to explaining how their child’s school is planning to reopen and reviewing all the safety precautions – proper handwashing and social distancing – parents need to introduce their child to the importance of wearing face masks and help them adjust to wearing them for 8 hours.
Parents and teachers do not argue the importance of wearing face masks but do share concerns about the distractions and effectiveness they present for children. “The best way I can help parents and teachers through this difficult and emotional time is to listen to them while they talk about their thoughts and feelings and help them find the coping techniques that will allow them to calmly lead their children through the process,” said Willis. While both parents and teachers have similar concerns there are differences in their issues. “Teachers know the schools will be set up according to guidelines and will be as safe as possible. They also understand that as parents drop their children off, they trust the school will keep them safe. While I, as a teacher will do all I can to make sure the school’s safety plan is maintained, I don’t want to be the person held accountable for making sure kids keep their masks on and don’t get in one others’ space,” said Willis. In addition, there is such uncertainty of late regarding classroom reopening, COVID-19, that raises the confusion and anxiety. “Uncertainties ranging from the COVID virus itself, school decisions – are they right? Are they wrong? Am I a good parent sending them and a bad parent if I don’t? So many questions and so few direct – for obvious reasons – answers take their toll,” said Willis.
There are many resources available for parents and teachers offering tips on how to prepare for the upcoming school year. And, since face mask concerns seem to be one of the greatest concerns among parents and teachers, here are some tips to help children in that regard.
• Start by setting the example. If their parents wear a mask every time, they go out they help normalize it for their kids.
• Don’t talk negatively about having to wear a face mask but rather make it a positive thing and how by wearing it you are doing your part to keep yourself, your family, and others healthy. • Young children especially will have some problems and may complain. Help them by understanding them and explaining how important it is for them to wear it. • Start working with your kids to getting used to the idea of wearing a mask at school all day. According to Willis, “The parents and teachers I talk with would like to see the schools reopen; they want kids to be in the classroom. But there are so many unanswered questions.” Of course, safety is at the top of everyone’s list for all concerned – the children, teachers, staff, and families. “No one questions the need to be flexible and adaptable as COVID-19 is monitored, but trying to help parents and teachers find the peace-of-mind in their decisions to calmly prepare their children and classrooms for the fall term is becoming a wide-spread mental health concern that needs to be addressed.”
These are trying times for parents and teachers who are struggling to make the best decisions they can for their kids, while trying to cope with the realization that COVID-19 is complicated and will continue to affect the way children live, play, and learn.