The following is a post I wrote for a local publication regarding the upcoming school year and dealing with the unknown.
I’m not a big fan of July. I especially dislike the middle of July. Not because of the heat. It means school is right around the corner. I hate that because I love having my kids home.
This year has more significant implications for me personally, as my oldest will be a Senior. Of course, this year seems to have more significant implications for everyone as the chatter about going back to school starts to ratchet up.
There are more questions than answers.
Are we going to be virtual?
Are we going to be in person?
Every other day?
How are politics impacting these discussions if they are impacting them at all?
What is the best way to educate our children and keep them safe?
How do we fund things?
How do we handle the fear and anxiety of our children?
How do we handle our own fear and anxiety?
These questions and hundreds more seem to cascade like a rushing swollen spring stream through most of the conversations I’m involved in lately. In the middle of these turbulent times, we must recognize and accept our own anxiety and fears. At the same time, we want to live our lives. How do we stretch that balance?
Admit our own fears
We start by admitting our fears. This will help both your children and you. Acknowledging your fear allows you to accept everything that comes with fear, including that we can’t control many things in life. There are too many days when I drop my children off at school that I have to work through my own fears about the possibilities of my children experiencing a trauma that I cannot help them avoid. Working in the field that I am in, I sit with too many people who have been sexually assaulted by friends in High School or sadly, even in Middle School. As I try to protect my children, I have to admit my own fears. I have to accept that I cannot control that reality.
Recognizing my fears empowers me to focus on what I can do about the concern. As your discussions with your children about the upcoming school year commence, don’t be afraid to share that you too have fears with them. The details may not be age-appropriate, but the concept will almost always benefit your child.
Limit your discussions when necessary.
While it is important to acknowledge fear, it is also essential to not let it control us. Often, when people are anxious about something, they may start to engage in multiple conversations about it. You have probably seen an uptick in discussions about returning to school on social media. This naturally happens as we move closer to the start of the school year every summer. For many people, this year has been more pronounced because there are so many unknowns. Let’s be clear, it is perfectly acceptable and healthy to limit the discussions you have regarding the start of the school year. Don’t be afraid to just step out of the debate. If you need to say, “Hey, let’s talk about something else,” or “I don’t really want to talk about this anymore.” If the arguments/discussions are happening on social media, you can scroll on. You can unfollow someone, or even snooze a person for a set amount of time. It’s OK to be friends with someone and not be able to talk with them about something. Another factor in limiting your interaction with topics that create anxiety is the news cycle via other mediums. You can be informed and not watch the news every day. You can just turn all the outlets off for a few days and be OK. My assumption is that if something happens, such as all of my questions about the upcoming school year being answered, I’ll probably find out in a relatively short time.
Maybe you can consume all the different discussions, news articles, blog posts, and opinion pieces and not feel elevated. If so, that’s great; if not, have a disciplined plan to disconnect.
Choose Grace and Kindness
Whenever possible, choose grace and kindness. Our school systems have leadership above them fighting like elementary school children. I have had multiple people tell me that they are frustrated because they don’t know what is happening for the next school year. I get that. I also know that the teachers, administrators, and even the bus drivers are also frustrated. They’ve been given some almost impossible tasks and directions to accomplish.
How do you just make the size of your classroom smaller by practically half?
How do you facilitate twenty-five first graders to keep their masks on all day?
How do you educate teenagers in this environment?
They are struggling with all of these questions and more.
Grace and kindness go a long way to alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with these questions.
Grace and kindness also help you and me when we are faced with difficult questions and the unknown. We don’t all have to agree, and the world would be an immensely better place if we all chose grace and kindness when we disagreed.
For the person who disagrees with you on XYZ topic, choose grace and kindness. For the person whom you think is disingenuous, choose grace and kindness.
Do an intentional act of kindness for someone else
We can lower our anxiety and stress by doing something intentionally for someone else. Our brain will often fixate and begin spinning around a topic almost like a washer caught on a spin cycle. Doing something for someone else can disrupt that preoccupation. It can be something small or big, that is up to you. When we do things for other people, our brains will flood us with chemicals that help us feel better.
There are many unknowns about the upcoming school year. There are many unknowns about this virus and the impact it will continue to have on us and those we love.
In these uncertain times, engage your anxieties and fears. If you’d like to read more strategies on handling anxiety, feel free to go to my website, www.joemartino.com, and search for anxiety.