Stella, my 3-year-old, knows people wear masks because we must all be “sneaky ninjas” and hide from the virus. She believes this because that’s what I told her. It was the best explanation that I could come up with when she asked why the lady handing me her Happy Meal had a mask on. That’s parenting, largely improvisational and often involving disseminating slightly misleading information, in order to make an adult issue understandable for their little noggins.

As we look towards a back-to-school season like we have never experienced before, many of us are left wondering, “How do I prepare my kids for this when I don’t even know what to do myself?” First, take a deep breath. If your kids haven’t caught on to the best kept adult secret ever, that none of us have any idea what we are doing, they aren’t going to figure it out now.

Here are a few tips to keep things in perspective as you talk to your kids about going back to school.

1. The best “new normal” is the “old normal.”

Whether your kids will be attending classes remotely or in-person, try to do as many of the “normal” back-to-school things you can. Let them pick out their new backpack (and maybe a matching ninja mask).

Pardon me, good sir, do you have this mask in a Minecraft print?

Work together to decide on a first day of school outfit. Take pictures. Shop for school supplies together. Pack their lunch (even if they aren’t leaving the house). Get excited! Your baby is entering a new grade and starting a new school year. How awesome is that? Don’t let the uncertainty of the situation take away from your family’s enthusiasm.

2. Give yourself grace.

Like many parents, I was blindsided by the unexpected homeschooler/work-from-home title that I gained in the last few months.

Hey! Where is my raise?

As a parent, balance is always difficult, and now at times, it can feel impossible. As our church DNA statement goes, “We’re all in the same boat,” but maybe it should be changed to “We’re all on the same struggle bus.” Every mom I know has confided in me, at least once, that they are currently riding it.

Driver? Can you let me off at the next stop?

In fact, as I type this, Stella is napping next to me after falling asleep watching YouTube on my phone, and my 6-year-old, Greyson, has been watching his tablet in his room for the last couple of hours. This is not my finest parenting, but we are all doing our best right now. As we enter the new school year, forgive yourself when you fall short of your own standards. Extend grace and understanding to your child who is adjusting to a new routine.

3. Don’t overthink or overexplain.

As parents, when we are anxious, we have the tendency to overexplain, overthink, and overload our kids with information. We have been told knowledge is power, and it’s easy to feel that going over every possible scenario with our kids will somehow protect them.

They can’t handle the truth. (Not all of it at once, anyway.)

Their little brains don’t work that way, so operate on a “need to know” basis. If they will be attending in-person instruction, practice wearing a mask. Prepare them for how first day drop-off will work. Explain that the classroom may look different.

If your child is participating in remote learning, help them get familiar with their new device. Work with them to create a schedule. Beyond that, wait for them to ask questions. When they do, answer them without veering off the road into additional-information-that-they-did-not-ask-for-land. If they want to know more, they will ask you. Have they ever not?

If all else fails, improvise. The 3-year-old sneaky ninjas of the world will never know the difference.

We are committed to helping your family navigate this challenging time. Stay tuned to our website for more online resources for children and pre-teens.