Three Ways to Handle School Uncertainty

Jennifer Moorhead, LPC



Parents are certainly facing a good amount of anxiety and fear regarding the unknown of what Back to School in 2020 is going to look like, and these same feelings can be even more intense for kids.

As a licensed professional counselor for Cascade Health, I’ve been working with children, adolescents and adults for years and I’ve found that three key strategies work extremely well in helping young people better manage anxiety around uncertainty.

I believe that parents can use these strategies to help their kids better prepare for the unknowns surrounding the upcoming school year.

  1. Hold onto the things you can control

Let’s face it, COVID-19 has robbed most of us of the feeling of being in control, and being in control is something most kids crave.

By helping them realize, appreciate, and latch onto the aspects and moments in their lives that they do have control over, you can help them deal with uncertainty as we head toward fall. I often counsel my young patients to make a kind of “ABCs Playlist” of controllable activities they can do when they start to feel adrift. For example, I instruct them to think of the letter “A” for doing some Art; the letter “B” for going on a Bike ride; the letter “C” for playing with the Cat, and so on. In this way they actively take control when uncertainty creeps in.


  1. Using mindfulness to neutralize grief and loss

Grief and loss isn’t just about mourning a friend or family member – it can also be about feeling the absence of an activity or routine. For many kids this fall, they are going to experience some loss if they aren’t physically inside their classrooms, and this could translate into grief about what they are missing.

Mindfulness, in its purest form, is actively paying attention to our thoughts in the moment, and this simple act can really help kids when they feel loss. By working with them to concentrate on what they ARE doing and thinking in the moment, you can help them move on from their thoughts about what they AREN’T doing in the moment.

  1. Understanding and accepting risk

If and when our kids go back into schools, many will reasonably ask their parents if it will be safe. When these questions arise it’s going to be important for parents to take them seriously and resist the temptation to give their kids a 100 percent guarantee of their safety. After all, the virus has taught us all hard lessons about its contagiousness.

Here it will be critical for parents to speak honestly about the idea of risk. An analogy I like to use with my young patients centers around riding their bike. Yes, every time you ride your bike, there is an opportunity for you to fall and scrape your knees and elbows. However, the vast majority of times, you won’t. In the same vein, it’s possible that some children or teachers may get sick this year, but if individual students stick to safety measures (wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands, etc.) they most likely will remain safe and healthy.

Make no mistake, back to school this year will be filled with uncertainty. Our kids are going to need help navigating this “new normal” and some of these simple yet powerful tools are a great way to provide them with the support and encouragement they will need.