It happened suddenly. Schools in Arizona completely shut down to protect everyone from COVID-19. That was months ago.
Now, as coronavirus numbers continue to rise, the idea of returning to school may also raise levels of concern for not only parents, but also children.
"Kids like things to be known and to be predictable," said Child Crisis Arizona Clinical Director Kary Scriven.
She knows predictability during a pandemic is nearly impossible for parents. She urges them to do what they can by getting as much information as they can from their child's school to start preparing them.
The Kyrene School District was the first in Arizona to announce they would require masks for students and staff. Scriven said, it is important for children to get used to those face coverings now.
"If you can practice wearing the mask at home... maybe playing a board game together or... during a TV show together for a set period of time, get kids used to it and if there's multiple children, you can even make it a game - 'Who can keep their masks on the longest,'" Scriven said.
Scriven also offered suggestions on how to encourage children to express any fear or anxiety they may be feeling about returning to school.
“Just talking, saying, 'I'm returning to the office. I'm a little nervous because I don't know what it's going to be like, and I know for you going back to school. You're going to be wearing a mask and you didn't wear a mask last year so you might be feeling nervous. You want to talk about that,'" Scriven described.
She said by giving a slight glimpse into how you are feeling, it gives children permission to express themselves, too.
Many children may also ask, “how long will this go on for?” Scriven stresses the importance of being honest. We do not know.
"If you give a kid a specific timeline, they're going to hold you to it," Scriven said. "And, if that time comes and goes and we're still wearing masks that kids’ not gonna... they're going to say, 'You lied to me!'"
Scriven suggests telling them that it will not be forever, but, right now, it is about caring for others in the classroom.
"Keeping it very calm and encouraging and using the word 'sick,' not some of the larger words we use as adults, like 'pandemic,'" Scriven explained. "But, just talk about staying healthy. 'This is something we want to do stay healthy.'"
As for how long it may take a child to adapt, it all depends on the individual. Overall, Scriven said, children could likely adapt within a week or so. However, changes are likely to occur, so it is important to keep conversations going at home.
Child Crisis Arizona has a variety of resources for families, including a Virtual Parent Support Group that meets via Zoom every Wednesday at 1 p.m. Click here to learn more and to register.
UNICEF also released an article about supporting your child's mental health as they return to school. They also provide tips for parents getting specific questions from their children.