The Most Important Thing Parents Can Do As Schools Reopen or Don’t Reopen

As schools begin to reopen or start their school year online, Americans have a wide range of passionate opinions on the subject. There have been medical and educational experts that have weighed in on both sides of the issue. So who is right? No one. For every highly educated expert you put your trust in, there is an equally highly educated expert that will disagree and provide equally “reliable” data.  For every perspective that supposedly gets debunked, there is an equally “dependable” explanation to argue otherwise. There is simply no easy answer to the question of whether schools should reopen or not. The only thing that is certain is that the situation is uncertain.

The decision regarding school reopening affects different children in different ways. What is right for one teen won’t be right for another. The decisions will impact one family completely differently than another family. There is no one right way to best address the mental, physical, and emotional needs of all children.

However, there is one certain thing that parents can do that will have a significantly positive impact on their children’s psychological wellness during this school year: manage their own discomfort in a positive way.

Parents will absolutely feel uncomfortable this year, because the school year will be complicated and confusing. BUT the way they handle their lack of control over the year will have more influence on their teen’s resilience, confidence, and overall mental wellbeing than any decision their child’s school will ever make.

Teens hear their parents talk, even when parents aren’t talking to them directly. Teens see their parents’ body language when they receive an email from the school. They are watching and listening to parents all the time, looking for cues on how they should be reacting. While every feeling and emotion a parent might be experiencing around this difficult crisis is valid and warranted, the actions parents take – the ways they speak and behave – as a result of those emotions will either create confidence or despair in those around them.

Parents can be a powerful role model of resilience to their children, even as they advocate for what they think will work best for their teen. Even in this uncertain time, even when every plan we make is almost immediately abandoned, even when our lives are unfolding in ways we don’t like, we can still demonstrate strength and compassion. That does not mean that parents have to always be a pillar of strength, nor that they can’t make mistakes, but parents will set the overall tone for every child in this country about how to manage a crisis.

Ultimately, no matter what school looks like this year, the psychological wellness of children will most benefit from their parents’ ability to manage their own discomfort during this uncertain time.

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