Surviving back to school in 2020

dvm360dvm360 September 2020
Volume 51
Issue 9

The year that most of us would rather forget is challenging us once again to adapt and overcome. Here is some advice for maintaining sanity in your home as kids return to school.


adragan /

For most families, the words “back to school” signify an end to the lazy days of summer and usher in an exciting time for children and their parents alike. Children get a fresh start, while us parents are jubilant for the return of more structured and disciplined days.

Yet here we are in 2020, where “normal” for most of us now includes masks, social distancing, canceled sporting events, and remote learning. As a veterinarian, I am wired to follow the science. I work with what I know and, when faced with the unknown, I study all the latest journal articles, books, and theories I can get my hands on to help my patients. The mom part of maneuvering through this COVID-19 nightmare is far more harrowing.

Explaining 2020 to children in a way they can comprehend, keeping them safe, and preparing them for academic success are monumental tasks, and parents must lead the way with no books or articles to reference during this roller-coaster ride. My own children are in college and graduate school, but I wanted to share some thoughts to help moms and dads of younger kids navigate the beginning of this historic school and mind-blowing semester.

Make a game plan.

Every child is unique, and their “frazzled” alarm will go off at different times and at different decibel levels. Expectations for school performance, projects, timelines, and free time need to be well planned in a normal year, but setting these expectations in 2020, with its new guidelines from schools and teachers, is more important than ever.

Do not expect the school year to fall in a similar time-space continuum as last year, or even last spring. You simply cannot run a mile in the same amount of time on concrete as in deep sand. The key is to find out what works best for your family. Perhaps that means hanging a big spreadsheet in a central location in your home to keep everyone informed and accountable.

If you find that your game plan is not suiting your child, then stop, reset, and make a new plan. Make every effort to keep your own frazzled meter in check (easier said than done, I know), so that the upheaval that is bound to occur is less jolting to your child.

Have empathy.

Even in a typical school year there are missed opportunities, failures, broken relationships, conflicts, and other disappointments. Pile on that the tsunami of COVID-19, and you might start to feel like you are drowning. Take some time to assess not only your own worries, but your children’s as well.

My worries include loss of life, income, and savings. My children’s worries are, of course, different than mine, but they are no less important. Before addressing any problems that are plaguing the other members of my household, I have to remember to put on their shoes, so to speak, and see things from their perspective. Much of what is happening now has never happened before to our children, let alone to us parents. I will never know or understand what it feels like not to have a graduation ceremony or a prom. I went to prom with the man who would later become my husband.

Spread kindness.

Little things that make people smile are needed now more than ever because these small acts of kindness can go a long way. Take the time to appreciate and find happiness in the little things you and your family can do for each other. Include in your week more of what will make them smile. Try inventing new popcorn flavors together, write fun notes on mirrors, or tuck candy into their sneakers. These seemingly simple acts will go a long way in reducing stress and promoting support as school gets underway.

You can do this.

We are all facing the unknown as we lead into the final quarter of the year, and it is going to be an emotional journey into 2021. I find that journaling can be a cathartic way to acknowledge both the good and the bad in your life before you move on. Let things flow onto paper as a way of making forward progress.

Another idea is to implement an emotion jar. Place an empty jar, slips of paper, and a pen in a central location and invite your family to write down their negative feelings and frustrations and tuck them into the jar as a way to release them. When the jar is full, you can decide as a family whether to dump them out and share them, shred them, or burn them—whatever fits your family’s needs.

Children, no matter their age, look to their parents in troubling situations. They will follow your cues, whether by word or action. In this crazy part of this epic year, I hope that we can all find it in ourselves to mirror how we want our children to act during schooling this semester and beyond.

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