Suzanne Gosselin: School reopening uncertainty -- this is how to help our kids cope

One thing I can control is how I lead my children during uncertain times.

The other day grief struck in an unexpected moment. I was putting away my son’s socks and spotted the special pair he had worn on his first day of school last year.

All of a sudden, a wave of sadness swept over me as I remembered how excited he’d been, waiting for the school bus in his new back-to-school outfit. As a child on the spectrum, my son lives for school. And seeing those socks reminded me once again of all that has been lost this year.

While the state and our local school districts are still trying to find suitable options for reopening school next month, it’s obvious the experience will look very different from last year. And none of the options — which involve reduced classroom time, expanded distance learning, less playtime, and fewer social activities — seem ideal.

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I was recently talking to a mom whose daughter is a senior. “At first I thought it was fortunate she wasn’t a senior last year,” the mom said. “But now I’m realizing her entire senior year could be affected, rather than just one-quarter of it.”

The coronavirus pandemic has played out in ways few of us imagined back in March. Similar to grieving the death of a loved one, some days feel fairly normal while others bowl me over with a sense of loss and grief.

This is particularly true when it comes to my son with special needs. Ever since he could express himself, he would ask me every day of summer break, “How many days until school starts?” He’s been out of the classroom for four-plus months now — a perpetual “summer break” — and I grieve over the things he’s missing out on: social interaction, specialized learning opportunities, even the simple joy of riding the bus.

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I, like many parents, have been hoping that we will return to some semblance of normalcy this fall. But there are no guarantees and I have little control. One thing I can control is how I lead my children during uncertain times.

Last week, my toddler slipped at the pool and cut the back of his head on a chair. The gash was big enough to require stitches, and his 7-year-old sister became hysterical. I quickly realized I needed to stay calm and help her realize the situation was not as dire as it felt.

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“It’s OK,” I soothed. “He’ll go to the doctor and be fine.”

“But he’ll have a scar,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

I acknowledged that, yes, he may have a scar, but we could be thankful the injury would not cause any long-term damage. She calmed down and soon set to work making a “get well soon” card for her brother.

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This pandemic is a tough blow. For many parents, grief is being reignited as we wait to see when and how schools will reopen. But we can still help my children view the future with hope by setting the tone. This begins with an attitude of gratefulness for what we do have. We can be thankful for each other, our faith, food and shelter.

The coronavirus pandemic may leave a scar, but these unique circumstances can also shape our kids into strong, resilient individuals who persevere through adversity.

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