McNerney: Leading our Kids About School in the Fall

By Neil McNerney, Parenting With Purpose

Loudoun parents are facing significant difficulties in trying to do what is best for our kids. By now, if you have a school-aged child, you have decided whether they will be doing distance learning or the “hybrid” model of two days in person and three days online learning. For most of us, this wasn’t an easy decision. In fact, I would suggest that this could have been the hardest decision up to this point in our childrearing days. Many of us have been questioned and challenged on our decision by a myriad of people, including family members, neighbors, and friends. 

Now comes the more difficult part: How will we continue to provide leadership for our kids about how school will look for them? In this column, I will try to lay out some talking points based on both choices we have been given.

Distance Learning

If you have chosen complete distance learning for your child, you might face resistance from them. They might complain that they will miss their friends, that they will have trouble learning, that it’s not fair that they must stay home. They might promise to be careful and wear a mask all the time. They might accuse you of fear-mongering. 

My initial suggestion, when confronted with this type of push-back, is to spend a good deal of time being empathic. It is important that your child knows that you understand their point of view and that their point of view is valid. Take a significant amount of time letting your child know that you understand. For instance, if your child says that they will miss out by being at home, don’t immediately respond with a rebuttal such as reminding them that many of their friends won’t be there either, or you’ll have to stay separated from them anyway. Especially don’t reply with some comment about them being selfish. Don’t imply that they are being self-centered by focusing on their friendships instead of the safety of their family. This is not the time to use guilt to prove your point.

Instead try something like this: “I know it’s going to be hard for you and you will miss your friends and feel like you are missing out. Can you tell me more about this?” The “Can you tell me more about this?” is an important question. Even though it sounds hokey, your goal is to keep them talking, so you can keep listening. After you think that they have fully shared their feelings, you can then respond. For instance: “I think I understand how hard this will be for you, and I am so sorry that this is happening. I don’t know how I would have dealt with this when I was your age. You’re going to really miss your friends and you’re afraid that you will miss out on a lot going on. But as your parent, I have made the decision to not have you at school until I think it is safe to do so. I know you disagree, and I know this will be hard for you. I will let you know right away once I think that it is safe enough for you to go back.”

This type of response allows your child to know that you are empathizing with their plight, but you are still the authority figure who makes this decision.

Hybrid Model

Although I might be wrong, I don’t think there will be as much conflict between parent and child about the hybrid choice. My experience so far has been that most children and parents tend to be on the same page when the hybrid model was chosen. However, as someone who works with many anxious children, I would suggest that you listen carefully to children who are worried about going back in person. 

If a child is extremely anxious about going back, it will significantly impact their learning if they are constantly in fear about keeping their mask on, or maintaining six feet, or washing their hands constantly. For anxious children, this is not the time for them to be facing their anxiety with such a big problem. Although I am a huge proponent of using exposure therapy (incrementally exposing a client to the anxiety provoking object), this is not the right time to implement it.

In summary, be compassionate about your child’s feelings, especially during this decision. Your relationship with your child will benefit.

Neil McNerney

Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. He can be reached at

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