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Q&A: How should parents talk to kids about going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Child psychiatrist and behavioral health specialist offer tips

ORLANDO, Fla. – Stress has been building for weeks as the deadline approaches to decide how students will go back to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

News 6 spoke with two specialists about how those decisions can affect children’s mental health.

Amanda Reineck is a behavioral health coordinator for Embrace Families in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. Dr. Larry Mitnaul, MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Ascension Medical Group in Wichita, Kansas.

Here’s what they had to say about the back-to-school decisions and the conversations and feelings that surround them:

Question: Does the stress that parents feel making the decisions about school impact kids?

Answer: “They can pick up on that stress, that anxiety, that worry that we as parents carry, so one of the biggest advice I give to parents is kind of wrap your own head around it, try to keep your own emotions as even keeled as you can,” Reineck said.

Question: Is it normal for kids to be nervous about these decisions?

Answer: “I always suggest to parents, before you impose your own feelings or your own ideas about all of these decisions, ask your kids first, get their opinion first, hear from them first, validate those feelings whether they’re nervous, they’re scared, they’re angry, they’re sad, whatever the emotion is,” Reineck said.

Question: How do we approach this topic with younger kids?

Answer: “Rather than feeling like parents have to sit down and (say) ‘We’re going to have the COVID talk today,’ instead, you know, we can watch a movie together and think about, ‘Wow, was that kind of scary?' Would that be scary if you were in the situation where you weren’t sure what was happening next and you weren’t sure who was going to be there or who was going to join you on the journey?” Dr. Mitnaul said.

Question: Is it really safe to be sending kids back to school?

Answer: “I think that’s a question nobody really knows the answer to, but you as a parent have to make a decision for what’s right for your child, for what’s right for your unique family’s needs, your household dynamics, the biggest thing I’m seeing is now more than ever we have to support each other as parents, in any decision that we make, regardless of what our opinion is. We have to give grace to each other and support each other. Not everyone has the flexibility to make one decision or the other,” Reineck said.

For more tips and information about preparing your kids for the upcoming school year, visit ClickOrlando.com/backtoschool.


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