Figuring Out Your Family’s COVID-19 Reentry Plan

As shelter-in-place restrictions begin to lift and we are encouraged to go back to our new “normal,” we are facing yet another transition: reentry. If you are feeling uneasy about what lies ahead with reentry, you’re not alone. This is new territory for everyone. What was normal before will likely be changed forever.

While nobody has all the answers, our licensed therapists put together some tips to help your family navigate your journey to reentry.

Transitions can be challenging for everyone

Regardless of your age or life situation, changing up routines and facing unknowns can be challenging. In the case of reentry, we’re preparing for not one transition but rather a series of transitions. Some of us may be sending younger kids back to childcare centers, going back to work or starting new jobs, or sending older kids to camps before school starts in the fall. What will that look like? What will socializing with friends and extended family look like moving forward? How will we ease back into activities that have been on pause? How will we recover from our different losses?

Thinking about everything on our plates and what is still to come can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Try to be patient and compassionate with yourself along the way. It is OK if you and your family are not ready to do what you see others doing on social media.

Embracing change

No matter the size or significance, any type of change can create feelings of discomfort. But what if, instead of seeing change and transitions as painful challenges, we could see them as opportunities, chances to reset and create a life that is more meaningful?

Is there anything you started or stopped doing during quarantine that you’d like to carry into your new “normal”?

  • Did you cook more as a family?
  • Did you and your kids spend more time outdoors than you have in years?
  • Did everyone get bored of watching the same movies and start playing more games as a family?
  • Did you enjoy slowing down and having an empty calendar?

While a lot is happening, with long-lasting effects, we can still appreciate the good things—no matter how big or small. Take a moment to think about what (if any) good this unusual and scary time gave you, and don’t be afraid to take any of it with you.

Common ways kids may respond to change

It’s normal for kids’ behavior to change during transitions, and different kids will respond in different ways.

Some kids may be:

  • Feeling excited to get back to their old routine and to see everyone they miss.
  • Feeling uneasy about going back, especially if they enjoyed being home with their family or if they generally feel anxiety around school.
  • Experiencing regression, or a “step back,” in their behavior or skills, such as starting to have accidents after being successfully potty trained or sucking their thumb again.
  • Anxious and clingy, constantly seeking reassurance and worrying about not being with you.
  • Irritable, have difficulty concentrating, or display changes in sleep or eating habits.

While these are all common and normal responses to change, be on the lookout for changes in behavior that impact your child’s ability to function or that persist for an extended period of time. If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, do not hesitate to seek professional help.

Preparing for reentry

We’ve all probably gotten a bit off track during quarantine. How could we not? While the transition to reentry may be overwhelming to many of us, try to see it as an opportunity to get your family back on track.

Here are some tips to help your family prepare for reentry:

  • Set realistic expectations. Life rarely goes as planned even without a pandemic, so be forgiving of yourself and others. Expecting everything to go perfectly can lead to feeling discouraged and disappointed. As best you can, try to be flexible and willing to adjust when necessary.
  • Ease back into basic routines, early and gradually. Instead of trying to do everything at once, tackle one basic routine at a time. If bedtime has been pushed later than you’d like, make it a little bit earlier each night until you get it where you need it. Once bedtime is going well, add another routine back into the mix.
  • Practice healthy habits. Taking care of both our bodies and our minds, by prioritizing nutrition and sleep, encouraging physical activity, and limiting screen time, can help reduce stress.
  • Have fun. Did your family start any new fun traditions during quarantine, such as having game night or going for walks together after dinner? Continue to make time for these new traditions and enjoy the time you have together.
  • Practice healthy coping skills. Help everyone in your family be better prepared to handle anxiety and stress by practicing healthy coping strategies. It can be as simple as being active, listening to music, reading, or slowing down and taking some deep breaths. You and your kids can use many of these strategies if you feel nervous going back to work or school.
  • Focus on what you can control. While so much is out of our control, it helps to focus on what you do have control over. You can’t control what other people do, but you can help keep yourself and others safe by wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing, washing your hands and staying home when you don’t feel well.

Communicating with your family

There is still a lot we don’t know, and there’s no way to predict what will happen in the upcoming days, weeks or even months. One thing you can control is staying connected as a family. Maintaining open communication and making time to regularly check in with one another can increase closeness and build trust.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you talk with your kids:

  • Be aware of your own feelings. You are human, and you have feelings. It’s OK and normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious about what is happening; just keep in mind that kids look to adults to see how they should behave or react. If you are panicking, your kids will think they should be panicking too. Try as best you can to share your calm instead.
  • Validate your kids’ feelings. Seeing people wearing masks or missing friends can bring up strong feelings for kids. Even if you think what they’re feeling is silly, those feelings are real to them. Let them know you understand by repeating back exactly what you hear, without judging or interpreting. It’s important for kids to feel comfortable expressing their feelings and to know that their feelings are perfectly normal.
  • Offer reassurance and avoid minimizing or dismissing. It’s natural to want to make our kids feel better, but try to avoid saying things like, “You don’t need to worry about it.” Dismissing their feelings doesn’t eliminate them, it only teaches them not to talk about them. Instead, acknowledge their feelings, let them know it’s OK to feel that way and help them manage their feelings.
  • Talk openly. Be honest with your family about how you can’t predict what’s going to happen but that you’ll figure it out together. Sometimes simply acknowledging that nobody is expected to have all the answers can make everyone feel a little less overwhelmed.