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Back-to-school is unlocking new terrors. Here’s what to do about it.

By Rochelle Brenner

Which scary scenario are you agonizing over the most?

Fear of:

  • getting sick from Covid

  • your child being able to stay masked

  • other kids keeping their mask on

  • administrators enforcing the mask mandate

  • the kids ability to hear and communicate and behave with a mask on

  • getting childcare after a sudden school closing or quarantine

  • getting everything done without falling behind

  • constant absences for every sneeze

  • the effect of it all on your child’s mental health

Remember when the fear was more about getting to school on time, making a friend, keeping up with classwork, avoiding bullies and getting calls from the principal’s office?

The way we see and scan the world for our kids’ safety has changed. In the martial arts industry, we often get a front-row seat to the fears and challenges parents face on a daily basis. We’re the place where parents go to help boost their kids’ confidence if they’re inactive, disinterested, screen-addicted, unmotivated, struggling with focus or getting in trouble in school.

Here’s what we’re seeing: In states where school already started, instructors are reporting an overwhelming number of frustrated parents who can’t take it. They are struggling to get their kids to school and manage their homework and balance the new set of fears with their work and life schedule. Perhaps most terrifying is that they’re feeling helpless to parent their child with the child’s behavior in assimilating and adjusting. Routine things like making dinner and packing a water bottle for school are turning into breakdowns.

This is going to be a challenging start to the school year. With all of the disruption from the pandemic, combined with the typical chaos of a transition, the goal for the first few weeks is to be supportive to your child as they navigate their way through the next stage of their education.

One parent in Philadelphia shared this sense of dread over the start of the school year:

“I will deal with days where I won’t be able to help or be too paralyzed or exhausted to help. All of these days are ahead of me and I have to accept this,” wrote Mental Health Clinician Leslie Rivillo, whose child has not skipped a beat in martial arts training. “Check in with your people, give them some grace and help if you are able to do so. Give yourself a bit of grace as well, this pandemic will last well into 2022 and we have to try to make it for ourselves, our families and our communities.”

Another parent responded: “I realized our entire year is going to be constantly making these decisions and keeping our kids home at the slightest sniffle. It’s just all so stressful and I’m so angry we’re still here.”

Imagine a kid with a severe illness who could not go to school or see classmates for a year or two during the most formative time of social development. And now that kid has to wear a mask to try and communicate. That’s ALL of our kids. We want kids to get into a rhythm and be enthusiastic about their education. Our plan is to be patient with their adjustment the first few weeks.

Here are 7 Black Belt tips to help you get through:

  1. Don’t panic - Panic is defined as “sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.” When you feel yourself start to panic, make the decision later. Breathe and wait. Do something different. Walk away.

  2. Make your word of the year “Grit” - Every hard day is an opportunity to develop grit. Don’t want to? Understandable. But every time your child sees you show grit, it builds up their reserve of grit as well. It sets the example that they can keep going. Grit is staying focused on your long-term goals even when it’s difficult or challenging. Vow that when things get tough, your family will choose grit over quit. I choose grit over quit. Recite it.

  3. Do not take your child out for special events like mini-golf or ice-cream that first week. Just let them sleep and relax and digest their day. They don’t need more exciting moments that lead to meltdowns. They need to reflect to have a full tank for the next day.

  4. Stick with as much of your healthy routine as possible. Extracurriculars and hobbies help them develop important skills and coping techniques outside of the school setting. Don’t quit martial arts or tutoring or therapy or swimming or chores or dance. Doing so will often take away an experience that is important for their growth.

  5. Give your child space to process their day. They might need to sit in their room or listen to music or watch TV or even complain about dinner. Don’t escalate a temporary emotional reaction. Give them space to experience their day, and stick to what’s good for them. Don’t let them quit something that’s good for them. The same way you shouldn’t give them ice-cream for dinner to appease a hard day, don’t take away stress-relievers like martial arts because they said they didn’t want to go. Remember you are their safe person and they can be emotional and dramatic and let it all out with you.

  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your martial arts instructor can help. Your relatives can help. Your peers can help.

  7. Take it one week at a time. You don’t have to solve every problem the first day or first week. Your child doesn’t need straight A’s and four after-school activities this week. Do an assessment of what worked week by week and you’ll see improvements. Just wait until next week or the week after and see what fits and benefits your family.

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