To School, or Not to School?

Why school is so important for kids:

Children have been out of school for several months now and for the most part, they’ve been separated from their friends and their extended families. Doctors are now describing “skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression” among school-aged children, and one reason is the lack of social interactions with their peers and the adults at their schools.

The pandemic has been hard on everyone’s mental health. For school-aged children it has been especially challenging. They feel acutely the deprivations of social distancing. They need the stimulation, learning and fun of being with their peers. Being with their nuclear family all the time can be boring and can increase the potential for conflicts, especially when everyone is under stress.

Children need to spend time with their friends. They need to go to school and spend time with other adults, away from their immediate family. School has so much more to offer children aside from academic learning.

School helps kids develop essential skills:

At school, children develop the skills that are essential for their future success in their personal and professional life. They learn communication, cooperation, conflict resolution and compromise. They learn sharing, negotiation, tolerance and resilience. They learn how to deal with mistakes and failure and how to be kind to others.

The meaningful relationships they develop with fellow students and with school staff help a child build self-confidence, self-worth, self-acceptance and a sense of belonging. They learn to see things from different perspectives and they open their minds to new possibilities.

At school, children learn from adults who are not part of their family. They discover that there are many sources of knowledge and wisdom in their lives. They learn all sorts of things from their peers and they get to feel good about themselves when they help other kids achieve their goals.

Children need play for their emotional and psycho-social development. School offers them the opportunity for play in their classes, at lunch and recess, and in their extra-curricular activities. Play teaches children an abundance of life skills, such as team-work, innovation, how to be a good winner and how to be a good loser. It fosters creativity and provides an outlet for stress.

The problem with sending kids back to school:

It’s clear just how important it is to get kids back to school in the fall. But, there’s a real problem with this. The pandemic is far from over. In the United States, the numbers are surging and hospital beds are almost at capacity. The system could collapse if the numbers keep going higher.

If children are sent to school, even with the best of precautions, bad outcomes are likely. Kids, by nature, are impulsive, short-sighted and resistant to rules they don’t understand. There is a real possibility that they could give each-other the novel coronavirus.

The children themselves might not be severely affected, but they could spread the virus to their teachers, the school support staff, and to their family members at home. These adults, in turn, could spread the virus to their elderly parents, their co-workers, the grocery store clerk, or the local bus driver.

Between a rock and a hard place:

We’re caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to balance the emotional and psychological needs of our children with their physical well-being and that of our community. The sad truth is that until the numbers have dropped to a very low number and they remain down, it simply won’t be safe to send our kids back to school.

The risk of our children becoming infected and of the adults around them getting sick is just too great. Doctors, nurses and paramedics are overworked and becoming burnt out. Sick parents can’t go to work and support the economic recovery. The more the virus spreads, the more likely it is that our health care system will collapse and our economy will be devastated.

As much as we want our kids to go back to school in the fall, and as important it is for them on so many levels, the health and well-being of our community must take precedence.

Sending our children to school could mean one both parents in the hospital; it could mean teachers and school staff dying with no-one available to replace them. This can’t be good for the children, and it certainly won’t be good for our health care system or the economy.

It’s just not worth the risk:

Until it’s safe, we have to wait before sending our children back to school. It’s an enormous sacrifice to make, and we do it at great cost to ourselves and our families, but if we don’t do it and the numbers explode, things will only get worse for all of us, even if our own family is spared.

This really is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s time dig deep and access our reserves of patience and fortitude. It won’t be easy, but if parents do the right thing now by keeping their kids at home, we’ll all be in better shape down the road. If we open up the schools prematurely, even with the best intentions for our children, I truly fear the worst.

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Marcia Sirota

Marcia Sirota

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Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series