Posted September 13, 2021 by Mark Perna
Keeping kids safe and dealing with the possibility of more remote learning are top concerns for parents as schools open up around the country. Mark’s article, “What’s Keeping Working Parents Up At Night About The New School Year,” published at Forbes.com on August 24, 2021.
The back-to-school season is a time of transition—often welcome to working parents who appreciate the structure that school can bring. While not every school-aged kid might celebrate the opening bell, many parents do. But like 2020, this year is already promising to create new challenges for kids, teachers and parents.
The spread of the delta variant of Covid-19 is causing fresh fears and anxieties among parents. Not only are they worried about keeping their kids safe, but they’re also concerned about how another year of remote learning might impact their child’s education—and their own ability to be productive at work.
“Covid fatigue is real,” says Don Simons, CEO of ENGINE Insights, “but we are not done with the pandemic’s impact. Flexibility will remain important since every day can bring a new change.”
What does this mean for working parents and the companies that employ them? “Once more, everyone needs to adapt.”
ENGINE Insights conducted a survey of 582 parents/guardians of school-aged (K–12) children to capture a sense of what parents are thinking as the first day of school approaches.
A major concern that 74% of the surveyed parents have is how the pandemic will affect schools’ ability to remain at full capacity. No one really knows if 2021 will be turn out to be another year of remote learning, and the uncertainty can be wearying.
At the same time, 73% of parents are concerned about schools reopening safely. One of the biggest fears weighing on the minds of parents (71%) is that their children might bring Covid-19 home from school. As a result, 78% of parents think wearing masks/facial coverings should be considered for at least some members of the school community, even if they’re vaccinated.
“Safety is the number-one concern on every parent’s mind right now,” says James Rhyu, CEO of Stride. But it’s not the only thing they’re worried about, as many parents are also deeply concerned about the quality of their student’s education.
A recent survey by Lexia Learning found that 48% of parents and 58% of teachers anticipate that overcoming the learning loss students experienced last year will be this school year’s biggest challenge. Parents and teachers (79%) both believe that children are about half a school year or more behind in learning, but parents (77%) tend to be more optimistic about making up that loss compared to teachers (56%).
If these competing worries are keeping you up at night, how can you best cope with all the uncertainty of the coming school year?
The first step, says Dr. Benjamin Miller, President at the mental health foundation Well Being Trust, is to recognize that there are simply some things that are going to be out of our control.
“We can do everything we can to prepare our kids for going back to school,” he says, “but the reality is that based on the actions of others, the virus may not be in a place that allows for all kids to return. Further, some schools may even make decisions that you disagree with—this is a tough spot to be in as a parent.”
We can’t control what others decide, and that in and of itself can be stressful—especially when parents are trying to work while helping their kids thrive in virtual learning environments. “The best we can do is let our voice be heard,” says Dr. Miller. “Be honest with our kids about what to expect. Be honest with your school about what you expect. And make sure to not try to take on what you can’t control. That only adds to your stress and anxiety, which does not help your situation, your kids or your own health.
“Take a breath—know that this will one day pass—and let’s do all we can to stay grounded in the moment and talk to each other about how we are feeling in these strange and uncertain times.”
Working parents who may be facing another year of remote learning should start having conversations now with their employers about what they might need to best support their children. This early dialogue can then pave the way for you to negotiate to work from home, should the need arise.
Rhyu believes that parents should have the choice to alter their work schedules and/or location to take care of their kids. “Parents need options like job sharing or even workload balancing across teams and people to provide the flexibility to do their jobs and meet the needs of their families,” he says. “As parents, our children are our main priority. Every employer should respect this.”
If parents are forced to deal with another remote school year, Rhyu says that online learning, when done right, does work. “Every parent in every state has the option to send their student to their local school, use an online option if their school offers it or opt for an experienced online provider to educate their students,” he says. “Every school district must be ready, willing and able to invest in high-quality online learning options that meet the needs of the families they serve.
“Online learning is here to stay.”
As parents know all too well, kids are observant. They absorb tremendous amounts of information from watching others. That’s why, as you deal with the challenges the new school year brings, remember your kids are often taking their cue from you. The example you set may have a bigger influence than you know.
“Helping them learn how to process their emotions, cope with stress and solve problems are all steps towards resilience,” says Dr. Miller. “These skills will not only help them prepare for the fall but will also benefit them far beyond Covid-19 and the challenges of the next several months with returning back to school.”
As we face the possibility of another disrupted year of learning, don’t forget: not all education is academic. Life skills like coping with stress, putting forth your best effort every time, navigating uncertainty and treating others with grace are all incredibly valuable lessons that kids can learn right alongside us as parents. Whatever the new school year brings, you can make the most of it when you approach it with a positive attitude—and help your kids do the same.