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.

Being a middle schooler just got harder. This intensely social age group has to find ways to express themselves, individuate from their parents and pursue their passions amidst a whole new set of rules and restrictions. But since the latest research suggests that kids aged 10 to 19 are at least as likely as adults to transmit the virus, getting them on board is crucial.

Take this thing off!

Rules at school will vary, but in general it’s good practice to wash or sanitize your hands before you remove your mask, place it into a designated paper or plastic bag while you’re not wearing it, and wash your hands again after removing it. Before masking up again—you guessed it—wash your hands!

Information is power—but dosage is important

Participating in informed discussions about the latest news and numbers may help older kids feel some control and alleviate their anxiety. Some kids will be interested in charts and graphs depicting efforts to flatten the curve, or in apps that track cases in your area. But put limits on consuming coronavirus news (that goes for the adults, too). Research shows that overexposure to negative news provokes fear, anxiety and other damaging outcomes. Instead of letting your middle schoolers watch a steady stream of TV news, find an article or video you can share and talk about.

Lunchtime trading is off the table

If students eat lunch at school, there will be new rules about how to behave. Whether kids are eating outside or at their desks, it’s a safe bet that passing choice snacks will be forbidden. Perhaps now more than ever it’s worth getting your child to help plan some lunches or snacks that give them a boost of happiness and health during their school day.

Peer pressure takes on new risks

You probably understand many of the ways that peer pressure influences your youngster. But now there’s a complex new set of health guidelines that your child may be looking to their peers as role models for. What will your child do if the cool kids keep taking off their mask and hanging out in not-socially distant groups after school? It’s worth it to have conversations in advance because going against the grain will take every bit of your child’s willpower. Just as it’s recommended to ask your child, what would you do if somebody offered you a vape at school or the answer sheet to that really hard math test, it’s worth asking “What would you do if… a friend hugged you, a group of friends all “decided” to take off their masks, shared food, planned a party?” Your child probably won’t enjoy these conversations but you will be helping them develop one of the most precious resources for this age: forethought. Thinking through different scenarios gives them a chance to discuss the issues with you and find the right words in advance.

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