As schools in Manitoba and across North America prepare to return to school a month-ish from now, there’s a lot of chatter about risk.

Of course, there is risk. And because nobody has a crystal ball, there are lots of opinions flying about what’s best… and some of those opinions are framed in the starkest, most dramatic of terms.

When COVID-19 first hit, we at Brightling had to work hard to manage our panic. Now that we’ve been at it for three months, though, we are always alert… but calm. 

We have been observing the children closely, and saw them quickly return to regular learning – so much so that they’ve helped the grown-ups regain perspective.

Gathering children can have an element of risk, of course. But if we remain calm we can make the most educated decisions to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Kids hear more than we think

Our children are well-aware of COVID-19 and how it has disrupted their lives… but they can also overhear news media reporters and pundits talking about millions of cases, and thousands of deaths, and tremendous risks associated with congregating outside of the home right now. They overhear our conversations with our neighbours, too… but they don’t understand the context for what we’re saying. They can easily assume what they’re hearing about Texas or Florida applies to us… but that we’re sending them back to school in September anyway. That’s a one-way ticket to anxiety.

Our children look to us for signs of how to respond. They can feed off our fears – so it’s important to be aware of the impacts on them of our reactions in anxious moments.

To reduce worries, lead with calm

Our children make assumptions based on what they know to be true (which, like us, they determine based on what they’ve heard). But WE are the secret weapon: there is nobody they trust more than their parents and caregivers.

They need us to:

  1. be (and appear) calm and “normal,” keeping as many normal routines going as we can
  2. do regular “check-ins” to see how they’re feeling about things and what they may have heard others talking about
  3. listen to their concerns, and re-set context and understanding with the facts of their situation
  4. choose our level of detail to match their age and ability to process information
  5. limit their access to news media as much as is practical
  6. rather than making promises like “you have nothing to worry about ” or “everything will be fine,” focus on all the people who are helping keep them safe: parents, extended family, teachers and their caregivers at Brightling, neighbours, their doctor, etc. Remind them often of the loving safety net that surrounds them.
  7. explain and model best health practices like hand-washing in terms of keeping healthy all the time, rather than as a defense against a threat. Let’s be honest, even once this pandemic is over, nobody will be sorry they trained their kids to wash their hands frequently.

And finally, back to #1: take care of ourselves so we *can* feel calm and “normal.” Set reasonable expectations for our families and for ourselves, and accept that the best we can do is our best.

At Brightling, we are specialists in childcare… but as we see it, that includes helping the families around our children as much as we can. If ever you need help, or resources, or a listening ear, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are here to help, and nothing pleases us more than being able to.

Karolina Dressler
K. Dressler