How to Face the Uncertainty of the 2020–2021 School Year With Confidence

Little boy holding his mother's hand

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

All across the country, families are waiting to hear what schools are going to propose for the 2020–2021 school year. Will kids be attending school full-time, learning remotely again, or engaging in a hybrid model with both online and in-person elements?

No one knows for sure at this point—especially as the coronavirus continues to surge in many states around the country.

Why We Feel So Much Uncertainty

According to a survey conducted by AASA, The Superintendent's Association, 94% of superintendents nationwide said they weren't ready to announce whether their school districts will reopen or resume in-person schooling as of June 2020. This uncertainty can create a great deal of unease and stress for kids and parents alike.

Kids thrive when they have structure and predictability. And parents—regardless of whether they work outside the home, work remotely, or are stay-at-home parents—need to know what is going to happen so they can plan accordingly.

Aside from stocking up on supplies, hand sanitizer, and masks, there may also be childcare to consider and work schedules to navigate. And yet, just a few weeks out from what is supposed to be the start of school, parents in some states are no closer to having answers than they were two months ago. But this doesn't mean you can't start preparing for the year ahead now.

How You Can Best Support Your Kids

Father and son in a handshake

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

In order to help your kids adapt to the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year, it's important to focus on the positives, provide structure, and create opportunities for stress relief. Doing so will help them feel supported, build their self-esteem, and allow them to face the this uncertainty with greater confidence.

Take Time to Talk

Keep in mind that kids have been navigating an ever-changing educational environment that has been turned upside down by COVID-19. Naturally, they are going to feel a little stressed and confused. Nothing is the same and that can be scary for kids—even older children in high school and college have worries and concerns that may be weighing them down.

Help your kids process their feelings on a regular basis by taking time to talk about the pandemic and how they are being impacted. Listen to their thoughts and feelings and ask lots of questions. And try to avoid lecturing them or laying out a bunch of rules.

Instead, validate their feelings and recognize that if they are grieving the loss of normalcy and familiarity they used to associate with school. Be careful not to overdo it, though. Too many conversations about the coronavirus and school can just heighten anxiety and worry.

Be Honest

Children are often naturally creative and imaginative. As a result, they may develop thoughts and ideas about the coronavirus that are not accurate.

Make sure you take steps to correct any misconceptions kids have about the pandemic or their school's re-opening plans.

While you don't want to ever lie to your kids or give them false hope, you do need to keep your discussions with them age appropriate.

It also might help to explain simple safety steps like washing their hands, staying six feet apart, and wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the disease. You also may need to remind them how the disease spreads from person to person so that they know why these safety measures are important in protecting their health and others. But avoid shaming them when they forget to wash their hands or complain about wearing a mask.

Pay Attention to Your Words

As the new school year approaches, remember that your kids are desperate for normalcy and hope the new school year will be more stable than it was last year. For this reason, you need to be careful with your words.

Even if you think their desires are just wishful thinking at this point, you need to recognize that those feelings are still real to them. Be careful not to belittle them for wanting things to go back to the way they once were.

Remember that your kids look to you for guidance on how to react to stressful situations. The National Association of School Psychologists suggests that you acknowledge some level of concern about COVID-19 without panicking in the process.

How you talk about the pandemic can increase or decrease your child's fear. Remind your kids that you are doing everything you can to keep your family safe and healthy.

Also, focus on what your kids can control. It's easy for kids—and even parents—to get caught up in the "what-ifs" and to dwell on the unknowns. Instead, help your kids identify what they can control throughout the year, especially if things start to worsen again. Doing so helps reduce anxiety and stress.

For instance, kids might be able to decide what to pack for lunch or what to wear for the day. Other practical ideas include making plans for the weekend, getting their stuff organized, creating a calendar with their assignments, and cleaning up their learning area. For older kids, they might consider repainting their room or learning a new skill.

How to Deal With Re-Entry Anxiety

Mother and daughter hugging

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

It's completely normal for kids to experience what is called re-entry anxiety following a pandemic like COVID-19. As a parent, you need to ask questions about how they are feeling and then truly listen to their responses. Validate their feelings by letting them know that what they're feeling is normal.

Start by having a conversation with your kids about what school will look like for them this year. Then allow them to ask questions and share their concerns. From there, you can start developing a plan together.

Take Small Steps to Re-Integrate

Of course, every family and community will be different. For instance, if your state has just recently re-opened, re-integrating may take a little more effort. In these situations, you might want to start with small outings so that your child can get comfortable being away from home again.

From school closures to online learning to wearing masks, parents have been tasked with helping their kids adjust to a new normal. The challenging part is that normal will look different for every family, depending on where you live, where your kids attend school, and your state's recommendations. Even if you plan to homeschool your kids, you will need to plan for that transition.

Likewise, if your school is requiring masks, your kids might need some practice keeping them on for an extended period of time. Don't wait until the night before school to get them used to wearing a mask for an extended period of time.

Create a Plan for the Transition

Learn to Make the Best of Things

Little hands playing with dinosaur action figures

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

This collective uncertainty has made many parents and young people feeling discouraged. It's hard to be excited about going back to school, when there are so many unknowns. Here are some ways you can help kids look on the bright side and empower them to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

It's normal for kids to have some fears about re-integrating at school—especially after being home for so long and away from their peers. Regardless of the plan that your child's school is following, take steps to get your kids used to interacting with teachers and other students again, even if it's just online.

Focus on the Positives

And as things change throughout the school year—as they most likely will—you may need to address re-integration multiple times. This is especially true if your school starts with an online learning environment and then transitions to an in-person model or vice versa.

If you find that school will not be in-person this year, or if you have made a decision to keep your child at home during the 2020–2021 school year, your kids will likely experience some sadness and disappointment. Other kids might be disappointed that school is starting back up. No matter how your child feels about school, it's important that you focus on the positives.

If your school is online again this year, you could celebrate having more time together as a family. And if your school is in-person, you might want to celebrate the fact that your kids can be around their friends again.

While dealing with COVID-19 during the school year might be less than ideal, years from now you will look back on this time and remember not only the trials and challenges you experienced but the ways in which you came together as a family.

Establish a Daily Routine

Kids need structure in their everyday lives. And while it may be tempting to sleep in and stay up late if your child's school is online, this is less than ideal for their growing and developing bodies.

Instead, try keeping to a regular schedule, at least during the week. Doing so will not only help your kids stay on task and be more productive, but it also will provide a sense of control and predictability. And when kids feel like they have some control over their lives, they will handle uncertainties with much more ease.

A routine also will benefit you as well. It will help your kids learn to recognize that you also have things that need to be accomplished whether that involves working from home, paying bills, caring for their siblings, or doing household chores. Likewise, this structure can be the beginning stages of their budding independence and autonomy.

Stay Connected to the School

One of the best ways to support your kids in this new and ever-changing learning environment is to locate resources that will help your child continue to learn, grow, and develop. Not only should you take advantage of the free online learning resources many companies are offering, but you also should utilize what your school is providing.

Even school districts that are struggling financially and do not have easy access to technology are still developing lessons and learning activities for their students. Likewise, find out what other resources and services your school is providing, particularly if they are not planning to open in the fall.

Many schools still plan to provide meals, internet access, and technology use. For instance, some schools set up free WiFi for students in parking lots while others equipped buses with WiFi and have them travel to kids' neighborhoods. Be sure you know what your school is offering so that you can take advantage of it.

You also may want to keep in touch with your kids' teachers. Ask how you can support them and your student during this challenging and difficult time. Also make sure you set aside some time each week to get updates from your kids, particularly your teens or college students. They may be getting updates or emails that you are not aware of.

When to Ask for Help

Although there is still much that is unknown about the long-term effects of living through a pandemic, research into the psychological impacts of quarantine, isolation, and school closures has found that experiencing a host of short-term emotional changes is normal, including feeling confused, angry, or fearful. You may even notice some changes in your kids' sleep, eating habits, and energy levels as they adapt to the new school year.

Other ways to keep this school year more positive are to do family projects, create movies of your time together, take photos, learn something new, and most importantly make memories.

While most children will bounce back once they adjust, pandemics like COVID-19 also can trigger acute stress disorder (ASD) or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. When this happens, the distress from the coronavirus overwhelms your child's ability to cope and they may need some additional assistance.

If you feel that your child is more distressed than expected or is struggling to cope with all the upheaval in their lives, it's important to call your child's doctor. They can do an evaluation, recommend treatment if needed, and even make a referral to a mental health professional. Rest assured that these conditions are treatable.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to coping with the uncertainty of the 2020–2021 school year, it's OK to not have all the answers. In fact, your kids appreciate it when you admit that you simply don't know. But don't stop there.

Take time to research their questions together. Not only does it provide a great opportunity to spend time together, but gaining more knowledge about education and COVID-19 will build everyone's confidence despite the uncertainty you are facing.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Cases in the U.S.

  2. AASA The School Superintendents Association. AASA survey: No timetable yet regarding when schools will reopen; more than half of districts lack adequate internet access.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): How to protect yourself and others.

  4. National Association of School Psychologists. Helping children cope with changes resulting from COVID-19.

  5. Brooks SK, Webster RK, Smith LE, et al. The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet. 2020;395(10227):912-920. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.