As diagnoses for Coronavirus spiked in recent weeks, it has left many parents with school-aged children feeling as though there are no good options for the upcoming school year. Parents are torn between the need to work but also feel pressured to keep their children home. For those with smaller children and those with special needs, many parents feel that in-person attendance is the only option for their child’s educational needs to be fully met. However, many also feel troubled by the possibility of viral spread among students, teachers and staff. Parents with medically vulnerable children or family members also feel the squeeze. With so much change and unknown, many parents are struggling mentally and emotionally feeling as though there are no “good options” to make decisions about the new school year.

“Parents have always made important decisions for their children, so what I try to remind parents who are stressed and anxious about what to do about the upcoming school year is to give yourself a break and trust your instincts,” said Caleb Cauthen, LPC, lead outpatient therapist at Canopy Children’s Solutions Behavioral Health Clinic in Jackson. “There are a lot of unknowns right now, but life is always full of unknowns. We have to be flexible and resilient using our coping and problem-solving skills to make the best of an uneasy situation. Our kids depend on us to set a good example of how to handle adversity.”

Schools across the state are releasing their plans for re-opening so it is important for parents to be familiar with these plans and what is expected. This may include needing extra supplies such as face masks or classroom supplies as students will not be allowed to share. Having what they need at the start of school will help students feel confident, prepared, and help them regain focus. Consider reaching out to your child’s teacher and asking what “extra supplies” might be helpful in the classroom.

With some schools opening in a traditional format, nearly all have a hybrid or virtual option for opening or as part of their emergency plan in the event schools have to close. Go ahead and plan for what you will do if the school format changes, including talking to your employer, securing childcare and working with your support system on how you will handle these transitions. Ask questions and ensure you have the materials you need to reduce stress as much as possible.

If provided with a choice for academic delivery, weigh the pros and cons and find what works best and is medically-appropriate for your family. Base your consideration off of conversations with your family doctor, look at what flexibility your family has with childcare and support, and the academic needs of your child. Don’t let nay-sayers make you second-guess your decision. For those sending students back into the classroom, feel confident that teachers and staff want what’s best for your child and will be working hard to make school a fun learning experience that is also safe.

“I strongly encourage people to avoid ‘what-if’ thinking because it clouds your judgment, perpetuates negative thinking and creates unnecessary anxiety,” says Cauthen. “Letting the fear of ‘what-ifs’ hold you back can rob you and your family of positive experiences. You can’t control everything, but when stepping into a situation with many unknowns, mindset is important for you and your child.”

If your child is also struggling with anxiety over going back to school, remind them that you are supporting them along the way. Let them know that no matter what happens, you’ll be there to help them. If your child is resistant about following some of the new safety measures, such as wearing face masks, explain to them why they are important and give kids options by picking out fabrics for homemade masks, decorating the masks or taking them to the store to pick out their favorites. Let them feel heard and understood, even if they aren’t able to get the outcome they want. Remind them they will be surrounded by people who are there to support them and keep them safe.

It’s important to also recognize your limits and when it’s time to reach out for help—talk to a friend or loved one or seek professional support. Licensed therapists and counselors can help you or your child address challenges with depression, isolation, anxiety and other mental health concerns and develop skills to cope when those emotions are rising. The earlier you get help for mental health concerns, the better the long-term outcome.

The 2020 school year is going to be unlike any other we have experienced; however, that doesn’t automatically doom it to failure. While there may be things that will likely look different, find new ways to celebrate special milestones and give kids what they need to thrive. Don’t let change take away from their love of learning. With parents, students, teachers and administrators all working together with the goal of safety and excellent education, Mississippi students will be able to move forward into a successful school year.

ABOUT CANOPY CHILDREN’S SOLUTIONS: Canopy Children’s Solutions is Mississippi’s largest and most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social service solutions. Founded in 1912, Canopy offers a full array of integrated solutions across all 82 Mississippi counties, serving more than 5,000 children each year. For more information, please contact 800-388-6247 or visit mycanopy.org.