Mental health expert offers advice to uncertain families as school districts face tough reopening decisions

CHINO HILLS, Calif. (KABC) -- Many parents are split over whether their kids should continue with distance learning or return to the classroom when schools are back in session in the fall.

Going with either situation brings on feelings of stress and anxiety as parents calculate the potential consequences of their choices. Experts offer advice on how families can deal with these challenges.

For Therese Lee, a Chino Hills mother of three, school re-opening is just around the corner.

"They are supposed to start school in about three weeks or so, and that's pretty early," she said.

Her district plans are to offer a blended model of online and in-school learning but Lee still has many questions about the chance of exposure.

"You know your kids and you know your kids' friends, but then you don't know the other kids in their school," she said.

"I think that the hardest part about facing back to school is how much is uncertain about what it's going to be like and what the conditions are that will keep kids safe," said CHLA clinical psychologist Dr. Karen Rogers.

LAUSD superintendent says school year won't start with students at facilities amid COVID-19 pandemic
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Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Monday that the upcoming school year will not start with students taking in-person classes.

Rogers said uncertainty drives anxiety, but stress is brought on by external pressures such as the limitations of distance learning and being stuck at home.

"It's really important to remember that there's a cost to children from not being in school, they're missing the regular structure of their day, they're missing social contact with their peers," she said.

Rogers said the first step is to recognize that under these abnormal circumstances, these heightened negative feelings are normal.

She said, "Talk to children about what to expect. Help children to identify and express their feelings about excitement, worries, fears and hopes."

She also recommends paying attention to your child's behavior.

"When children's anxiety seems to interfere with their being able to do what kids normally do like play, have fun or learn," Rogers said. "Then it might be a sign that a child needs extra support, mental health support."

Lee said she really hopes the planned safety measures will curb the spread of illness in schools.

"We've all been through it. Once one kid gets sick, three of them get sick," she said.

Stay home or go back? Experts remind us both have potential risks and potential costs.
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