I have always thought in terms of possibilities. When I was younger, I used a coke bottle and filled it with ideas and goals I wanted to achieve. When I started my company, Bold New Girls, I set up a binder filled with blank paper, calling it my “binder of possibilities.” I spent time each day creating my dream job. Combined, these ideas convinced me that focusing on potential generated positive emotions and energy as well as momentum.
These experiences now help me teach both girls and boys that amidst uncertainty and change, they, too, can focus on opportunity. Positive psychology tells us that by focusing on the positive aspects of any event (losing a friend or adjusting to a new school routine), expressing gratitude for the highlights of your day, or using the language of strength such as, “I am so proud of myself for…”, one can feel more positive, hopeful, and even motivated to keep trying. I couldn’t agree more.
No doubt back to school is looking different than previous ones. Kids will likely be placed in learning pods in a new quarter system, encouraged to wear masks and frequently use hand sanitizer, and asked to practice the essential social distancing. Perhaps they won’t get to see all their friends as often, participate in as many after school activities, or feel the security of familiarity.
Even still, they can learn to embrace this time as a time of possibility. Here’s how parents can help:
1. Prepare your kids for what back to school means. This is two-fold—talk to them about what this could look like by painting the picture of possibilities—both the positives and challenges. Ask them what they are thinking, expecting, and wondering about. This fosters connection and conversation. Also, prepare them with their own supplies: mask, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and tissues. Help them take ownership of their cleaning items and feel ready to do their part. The possibility of being prepared can help them feel in control and powerful.
2. Normalize this experience. It’s not to say a global pandemic “normal” in any means but it is the “new normal” that we are all navigating together. Knowing everyone is facing the same worries and transition does help. Together, watch videos and scroll through Instagram to see everyone—every day people and celebrities alike—wearing masks and socializing in new and creative ways. The possibility of normalcy and the “we’re all in this together” feeling, can help kids feel calm and secure.
3. Talk to them about their “what if’s.” “What if we go back to lock down?” and “What if I face pressure to deviate from the COVID protocols?” or “What if I or someone I know contracts the virus?” These are all legitimate fears. Ask this key question, “Then what?” and explore some action steps for each concern—both the best-case and worst-case scenarios—so they gain balanced thinking. Remind them how much they have had to deal with so far and how these life experiences have already fostered resilience. Talking it out beforehand can alleviate their stresses and know they have a plan in place to rely on.
At the same time, talk to them about the possibility of how this return to school, though admittedly different, could be even better than returns prior. How? I don’t know entirely but I do know some of my clients have told me they like smaller classes (more teacher attention, less worry about peer judgment), they appreciate the rooms being cleaner (really) and it feels good to know they are helping flatten the curve and doing their best to protect everyone’s health and safety. They also enjoy a less busy schedule (where they have more downtime, playtime, and time to relax). The possibility of “even better” provides the possibility that a new way of being is different and, potentially, improved.
Yes, back to school is coming. We know this. What we don’t know is what it will be like. Why? This is because there are still questions and uncertainties. Yet, these unprecedented times can teach us about possibility and may prove to be a fabulous opportunity for kids and parents alike to grow.
Lindsay Sealey, BA, MA Ed, is the author of Growing Strong Girls: Practical Tools to Cultivate Connection in the Preteen Years and Rooted, Resilient, and Ready – now available on Amazon and Audible. She is the founder and CEO of Bold New Girls and Brave New Boys, and an instructor with Udemy.