With the new school year about to begin, the Delta variant continues to spread, causing an uptick in positive cases, hospitalizations and concern.

Children are excited about reuniting with their friends, but many are also worried about the pandemic, and their nervous parents aren’t sure what they should or should not say before their kids head back to class.

According to psychologist Steven Tobias of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown, it’s important for parents to first of all take control of any anxiety they themselves may be feeling about the pandemic, so it’s not transferred to their son or daughter.

He said mom and dad need to “talk to their kids, find out what their kids know or how they might be feeling about it, and then provide realistic reassurance to them, that will help them with the transition.”

He said when parents talk to their kids about COVID they don’t have to sugar-coat things by telling them there are no risks at all, but they do need to reassure them the risks are extremely low for children.

“Kids can handle the truth, I think they can handle the reality of the situation as long as the message that the parents are giving is given in a way that’s calm and matter of fact,” he said.

Maurice Elias, a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, said parents who are worried about the pandemic do not need to share those feelings with their kids, because it doesn’t do them any good at all.

“I think it’s important to be reassuring, that the school folks are going to be doing everything possible to keep kids safe,” he said. “Parents have to be very clear about the fact that wearing masks is helpful, it’s annoying, it’s a nuisance but as long as we do that we’re doing everything we can do to keep ourselves safe.”

Tobias said the pandemic presents in one sense an opportunity to help kids build values and understand the importance of being concerned about others and helping the community.

He said parents can remind their kids wearing a mask is for their own protection, and “you’re doing that also for others, for the people around you, for your teachers, for your family members and your classmates.”

He noted resilience is built through challenges and “if kids are never challenged, if things are always made easy for them if they never confront things in difficult situations, then when they become adults they’re not going to know how to handle that.”

Tobias added parents need to remember kids are very adaptable.

“If they have the emotional support of their family, they tend to be resilient, tend to be able to cope with things.

Elias said the new school setting will certainly be challenging for everyone, so “patience and forgiveness are two very important words — and I’ll add another one: kindness. Those are the three guiding words that I think we need to keep in the forefront of our minds as we head back to school.”

Tobias said if parents are able to speak to their children in this way “I think we’re all going to come out of this a much more cohesive and positive community.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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