Having spent many years working with children, and as an administrator for a children’s mental health
clinic, I am often asked questions by friends and family, sometimes friends of friends and sometimes for
friends of family. Lately I’ve been asked numerous times my opinion on the children returning to school
in the fall. Though I’m definitely not in a position to help a family decide whether or not to send the kids
back, I can speak to some of the things to consider, so I thought I would share them with you.
Most children do better mentally and emotionally with social stimulation, which, depending on current
limited activities and whether or not there are siblings in the home, varies. Some children seem to
actually be faring better emotionally without the added stressors of a school environment, particularly
those with anxiety, or those that have been bullied in the past. Though this may seem a positive,
consider the fact that children with mental health issues need to be able to learn to navigate their
emotions and develop coping skills to use throughout their lives, so, removing a child from the school
environment is something I almost never recommend to any parent. The respite that some children may
be feeling without returning to the daily school environment is, although on the surface relieving, it is, in
most cases, a detriment to a child’s growth and development of life skills.
Consider that when speaking about the emotional development of a child, 6 months is actually quite a
long time to be without social stimulation and the routine of attending school each day. Children thrive
on routine, whether or not parents want to believe it. They are challenged and develop a sense of
security from knowing that activity A will happen at a certain time. With parents attempting to juggle
working from home and caring for their children, or, working outside the home with haphazard child
care, much of a child’s routine is being lost. Spending 24/7 with their parents, even the most
autonomous of children could develop a disordered attachment or separation anxiety which will surface
when the parent resumes normal working environments and hours. Though much of this can’t be
helped during these times, these are things to take into consideration, along with the family’s needs,
when deciding about one’s child’s return to the school building.
Not to be forgotten are the physical risks in sending a child back to school in the fall. In families where
the child or another member may have pre-existing health conditions, or are immunocompromised, the
decision is more complex. In those instances, a child would definitely benefit from some sources of
outside socialization-even if it is online. Libraries , townships, and mental health clinics are offering
virtual groups and activities for children of all ages. Support services for mental health and for children
with developmental disabilities continue on virtually and are integral to maintaining a child’s
developmental track during these times.
These decisions are certainly not simple, and I sympathize with parents of school-aged children, as they
find themselves spinning plates for quite some period of time. The positive thing about children is that
they are adaptable and resilient, so no matter what a parent chooses to do about the return to school,
children have these inherent qualities that might lessen the impact of the decision.
The last thing I will say is that it’s important to consider that perhaps a trial of returning to school might
be an option that some parents have not thought of. Evaluating your child’s wellness after returning to a
school environment where they are socially distancing, missing lunchtime comraderie in the cafeteria,
and donning a mask all day is important to identify stressors that certain children cannot handle. It’s
important that no matter what decision is made, parents be aware of and to monitor their child’s
mental health and emotional state, and if something is notable, or the child seems to be struggling, do
not hesitate to reach out for mental health care with a trained professional. Most clinics are open, even
if the sessions are strictly telehealth for the moment.
Don’t be afraid to even ask for support for yourself and your own sanity- even Superman needs some
help sometimes.