Nobody knows exactly how or when our children will be back in the classroom or what safety measures schools will take to limit the transmission of COVID-19. What we do know is that when in-person school resumes, every aspect of the school day will probably be affected. The key things to model for kids of all ages? Calmness, flexibility, and a willingness to take the necessary steps to keep everyone safe.

Kids between the ages of 7 and 10 tend to be intensely social and sensitive to what their peers and parents think. They may be hyper-critical, of themselves and others, and may seem rules-obsessed. And they may have a lot of questions about how safe they are. To avoid generating worry, keep your responses to their questions calm and empathetic. If you don’t have an answer, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Above all, listen to their fears and feelings.

This mask is so annoying!

If your child’s class is required to wear masks, your child may push back, especially if they’ve spent most of the summer at home where they didn’t need to wear one. Make sure their mask is comfortably fitting, and consider doing a family mask-making activity (here’s a quick tutorial on making custom-sized masks for children) and letting them decorate their own masks with fabric paints or markers. And if crafting is just a bridge too far, consider an online shopping expedition where your child can choose a face mask that they like.

The rules keep changing!

Kids this age like to know what the rules are, and they have a low tolerance for inconsistency on the part of the adults around them. Backtracking or uncertainty around the latest rules and regulations is likely to be met with objections, especially from older kids. Be honest with your child and say that scientists are studying the best ways to keep everyone safe, and that it’s an ongoing process. As much as you may feel like throwing a full-on tantrum of your own, this is a chance to model a really important life skill: how to calmly cope when things are uncertain.

My best friend isn’t in my cohort!

At some schools, kids may be divided into small groups that they’ll stick with for learning, eating, and playing; the idea is to minimize widespread infection if one child becomes sick. If your super-social butterfly is unhappy with their group, keep an open dialog with your child’s teacher about any conflicts, but have empathy for how much teachers are dealing with right now. And help your child set up times to see their other friends virtually, if you can.

Hey, no pushing!

Just as kids have to curb their spontaneous displays of affection, they also have to quash the impulse to tackle, hit, push, or wrestle. Exercise is the balm your child needs, both for getting their pent-up feelings and energy out and for priming their brain to learn. Time after school for high-intensity running around outside or for dancing wildly to an exercise video on YouTube can help your child release some stress.

Looking for the silver linings

Children of all ages around the world are experiencing the stresses and uncertainties of the pandemic. And we as their parents are feeling the pain of every virtual birthday party, missed playdate and lonely day of less to do. In the midst of this stress and sadness, it’s worth remembering that young humans are supremely adaptive: they are creatures of change and creativity and make-do-with-what-you-have.

In this moment many kids are discovering treasure that will last their whole lives. They’re learning that they have reservoirs of resilience, siblings they love, abilities to learn new things they never thought they could learn. One teen starts a journal. Another child creates a basket of goodies for the delivery people. A middle schooler gets to spend some quality time with his typically overworked father. Children are adapting to the world as it is, not as we have hoped it would be for them. And in this, they are better suited to the moment than we are. So as you move into this fall with all of its unknowns, notice the small wins your child is no doubt experiencing and celebrate them. Because those will be the learning moments that stick.

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Updated: August 17, 2020