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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Back to school like never before

Strategies for managing children’s worries

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

Next week, most Manitoba families will be sending their children back to school. At the end of July, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen and Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin released the back-to-school plan for grades K to 12. This plan includes guidelines on physical distancing, self-screening, hand hygiene, the implementation of cohorts, and transportation.

The plan was modified on August 19th with the announcement of mandatory masks for all students in Grades 4 to 12 where physical distancing is not possible. The full plan can be read at

As we approach the start of the school year, children may be feeling nervous or anxious. Parents, grandparents and guardians can take steps to alleviate their young ones’ fears. Here are eight strategies that you can implement in the next few days:

  1. When things are quieter and calm, such as during a walk or a car ride, approach your children about their feelings regarding the return to school. Assure them that feeling worried is normal and encourage them to talk out their thoughts and emotions, rather than keeping them inside. Make it clear that you want to help and will keep what they share in confidence.
  2. Before the start of school, visit the school grounds. Point out any familiar spots such as where you will drop them off and what doors they will enter and exit through. This exercise will remind kids that there will be some predictability, which can provide a sense of calm.
  3. Talk to kids about what they can control, i.e. physical distancing, wearing masks, frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing. They don’t have to constantly worry about these things because teachers, education assistants and other school staff will be there to help and remind them.
  4. Recall the fun memories about learning experiences from past years, caring of teachers and seeing their friends. Remind children that even though things will be different, these things are still possible and accessible.
  5. Encourage kids to stay connected to their friends. This will have to be done creatively during times outside of school hours. For younger kids, this could mean sending letters through the mail or video calls. Older kids can text each other or help each other with homework over video platforms.
  6. Reassure children that there are many adults who are doing their best to keep everyone healthy and safe. Inform kids that everyone will be encouraged to self-screen every morning for signs of sickness and to stay home if feeling unwell.
  7. Role model effective calming behaviours such as deep breathing, logical problem solving and positive self-talk. Children tend to cope as well as their parents do. If they see that adults around them are calm, this will ease their worries.
  8. Adults must also take good care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This will foster healthy coping skills and develop patience for others. We cannot give to our children and other loved ones what we do not have.

May we all keep healthy and safe and look out for one another.

“From caring comes courage.” – Lao Tzu

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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