Straightforward Advice for Parents and Teachers—Be Kind, Always, to Everyone
Date Posted: 10/13/2021
By Jessica Knudsen, LCSW, CEO and President of Clarity Child Guidance Center
Last year, I wrote about the decision to keep my then 3-year-old twins enrolled in child care at the early stages of the pandemic so my husband and I could continue to work full time. Eighteen months into the pandemic, I would have thought the issues related to schooling would be much easier. If anything, it has only gotten harder, and my anxiety related to my children’s health and safety has gotten worse, primarily due to the delta variant.
So, what is a parent to do? My now 4-year-olds love school and are attending in-person Pre-K4. But it is hard. Really hard.
As CEO and president of Clarity Child Guidance Center—a stand-alone mental health hospital and specialized inpatient/outpatient treatment in South Texas for children ages 3-17 experiencing a range of emotional, mental, and behavioral illnesses—I, along with my team, fully understand the effects COVID-19 and stress has on children, and we are already seeing a rise in inpatient hospitalization and intensive therapy this fall.
Here is simple but straightforward advice I give to the parents who visit our website or our facilities; it might offer comfort to educators this school year:
With COVID-19 numbers rising again, being flexible remains key. I have shifted my mindset to not if someone in my family will get COVID-19, but when. Because anxiety is largely fueled by things out of our control, I have plans A, B, and C lined up if we need to work from home or pull the kids out of school.
Personally, I believe in the science behind the vaccine and my family members who are eligible are vaccinated. I send my kids to school in a mask. I feel I am making the best decision for my children to balance their physical and mental health. Other families feel differently. My struggle is that their decision not to vaccinate or to send kids to school without masks put my kids at risk for COVID-19 exposure. Being charitable to that choice is challenging when it has such a profound impact on my life. But I do my best. I try to educate and not judge—countering misinformation with information garnered from credible sources.
Kids hear what is going on and have questions. Unanswered questions are a breeding ground for anxiety. Spark the conversation with your kids; don’t wait for them to come to you. My struggle is straddling the line between sharing enough information and creating anxiety in the kids. I sometimes spontaneously ask them on the way home if they have any questions or other feelings about the virus. If they were older, it would be a much more detailed conversation about the long-term effects of the virus and my thoughts about the vaccine. Find your child’s level of comfort and understanding.
I still have my kids repeat our daily mantra at school drop-off every morning: “Listen, learn something, have fun, be kind.” I then ask them which of these is most important, which is, of course, “Be kind.” Always, to everyone. We have all suffered loss over the past 18 months in this shared traumatic experience. We all know people who have been hospitalized and some who died. We have missed birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and countless other events. All of this creates grief, which manifests differently in all of us. Some retreat inside themselves, while others lash out.
There are days my compassion wears thin. But I take a deep breath and remind myself that my children are watching what I do and listening to what I say. I have a responsibility to model kindness and compassion, even when it is difficult to do.
We have been through a lot and have more down the road before us. For now, I will continue to send my kids to school every day with a hug, a kiss and a prayer for their safety. Will I cry on the way to work sometimes? Probably. But on those days, I will make an extra effort to be kind to those around me. That is how we will get through this thing together.
Check out this March 2021 ATPE Blog interview with Dr. Jacqueline Herrera, a postdoctoral fellow at Clarity Child Guidance Center, on the importance of acknowledging one’s feelings and connecting with students during traumatic times.
Clarity Child Guidance Center provides professional education and CEUs at Claritycon, its annual children's mental health conferences. Because of COVID-19, Claritycon offer three options for attendance: live in-person at the KLRN-PBS TV studios in San Antonio, live virtual, or digital playback. Registration is now open for the 8 a.m.–1 p.m. Nov. 5 session, which will feature these five experts in the field of mental health and children—all speaking in-person:
- Headliner Mark Henick, suicide survivor: “So-Called Normal: A Memoir of Family, Depression and Resilience.” With over six million views, Henick’s TEDx talk "Why We Choose Suicide" is among the most watched in the world. His book So-Called Normal: A Memoir of Family, Depression and Resilience—sharing his struggles with mental illness—has captured global attention.
- Rachael Sherman, LCSW: “Transforming the Challenging Child through the Nurtured Heart Approach.” Horton is a licensed clinical social worker with eight-plus years working with challenging populations as a therapist at the San Marcos Treatment Center.
- Michelli Ramon, LCSW, CDWF: “Addiction and the Brain.” Ramon is a clinical social worker and educator on adolescent mental health matters.
- Jenny Hixon: “Family Violence: The Effect on a Child.” Hixon is a public health administrator focused on violence prevention with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.
- Ariel De Llanos, MD: “First Psychotic Episode.” De Llanos is CEO and founder of Focus and Balance.
For more information on Claritycon, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call (210) 593-2148, or visit claritycgc.org/annual-conference-claritycon/.