Masks. Social distancing in the hallways. New rules for recess and the cafeteria. As school districts roll out their strategies for contending with COVID-19, many parents are worried about the well-being of their children. And while you’re dealing with your concerns, it’s all too easy to forget that your children may be even more afraid.

You can’t blame them. A new school year is exciting, but it can also be stressful. They might be worried about getting a teacher who’s mean (remember how you and your friends would worry about ending up in Mrs. So-and-So’s class?), whether they’ll know anyone in their new class, and just how hard this year’s subjects will be. Add in a terrifying disease that has all the adults around them afraid, and it’s easy to understand their concerns.

So what can you do to help them? For starters, be careful about what you say in front of them. Kids pay more attention to what we say (and how we say it) than we realize. If they overhear you talking about how worried you are about them wearing masks or about their safety, they’re going to be worried, too. So choose your words and tone carefully, and if you’re discussing something the kids don’t need to hear, wait until they’re not around.

Instead of waiting for them to express their fears, have calm, relaxed conversations about the coming year. Ask them about their concerns and listen carefully to their responses. You don’t need to have all the answers, but if they know you’re listening and understand how they feel, they’ll feel better. Be sure you don’t inadvertently make fun of or diminish their fears by saying something like “don’t be silly!”

If they raise health concerns, talk about the measures their schools will use to protect them. Also make sure they understand their own role in staying healthy, through frequent handwashing, coughing and sneezing into their elbows, and not sharing personal items like masks or water bottles. Make sure they know the adults in their lives — you, their teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and others — are all working hard to keep them and their classmates safe.

Most of all, let them know everyone feels scared and overwhelmed at times — even you. They learn from how you manage emotions and difficult situations. If they see you acknowledging and facing your fears, they’ll be more likely to do the same today and when they become adults.

What do you do if your children become so fearful it begins to interfere with their daily lives? That’s when it may make sense to turn to a professional counselor for help. A counselor who is experienced at working with children can help them process their fears and give you both strategies for managing stress and emotions. Often, all kids need is a little extra help … and getting that help when they’re younger can help head off bigger problems down the road. Just give us a call, and we’ll set a convenient time to talk.

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