Q: This seems like a timely question. I am having a difficult time talking to my kids about transitioning back to school. With all the different options and uncertainties, what do you recommend I do or say?

A: This is something that’s being asked by many children and parents. Facing a return to school after six months of home stay brings many changes, raising fear in some children and their parents, as they consider the possible spread of COVID with increased exposure. For very young children, keeping them masked and “socially distancing” will be extremely challenging. Their excitement with reuniting with cherished friends, finally emerging from the separation, is understandable.

Although many children will be delighted about “re-entry,” the most important factor is ensuring children and school staff remain safe. Children take their cues from the adults around them; reassure them that all caregiving adults (parents and school staff) are working together to take good care of them. Your child’s unique temperament and developmental stage will play a big part in the social-emotional impact. Pay attention to your own anxiety about the transition, determining whether any difficulty in talking to your kids is related to your own concerns and how much belongs to your kids. Address their questions honestly. Engage them in conversation around the breakfast or dinner table — listen calmly to their feelings, to any uncertainties about returning to school, and be proactive by problem solving different options. Reassure them it’s normal to have a range of emotions, suggesting ways to release any worries through play, drawing, different activities.

Reinforce the positives, identifying each child’s resilience, a characteristic that helps them manage everything from a small setback to major traumas. We can nurture resilience in every child by teaching them effective problem-solving, such as how to successfully stay connected with their peers, despite masking and social distancing. As much as they may feel anxious about returning to school, remind them that schools initially closed to protect them and are now reopening with good safety measures in place. Given germs are invisible, their important job is to rid those by washing their hands frequently and thoroughly. Focus on the positives: that they will again see their friends and be learning new things.

Offering children ample reassurance is the best antidote to anxiety. Explain that “worry is our friend,” keeping us safe, alert, protecting ourselves. Let them know that whatever seems overwhelming and scary can be handled, that they will gradually overcome these worries as they adjust and grow. Frame anxiety as an important signal teaching them to listen to their fears, rather than ignoring them. Anxiety is the body’s way of telling us of possible danger, or in the case of starting school, to pay close attention to the root of the concern. Just like other emotions, apprehension is an ally, a messenger.

Ensure that your child is never afraid to ask for help. It’s important to listen carefully to your child’s feelings, respecting whatever he shares. Support him unconditionally if he’s struggling to discover ways to manage his anxiety. Children often regress during these transitions. Talking about your own fears and what worked for you in mastering them can help your child feel heard and connected to you. Avoid making any assumptions about how your child is managing; rather, problem-solve what works best for each of them when he/she is worried, sad, or angry. There is nothing right or wrong, simply hear and understand how each of them feels about the upcoming transition. Maintaining a routine, structure, and good sleep patterns is essential during this challenging time. The power of human connection is the single most important factor.

“The first day of school feels to children and parents the way the opening night of a play feels to the actors. The best way to prepare your child is to rehearse the scenes.” — J. Bloomberg, M.D.

Q: I’ve been unhappy in my marriage for years, and can’t even remember enjoying being around my husband. We try not to argue in front of our kids, but there’s always tension in different ways. Our oldest son often makes comments about how angry we both seem with each other, and recently asked why we stay together. That shocked me, thinking it wasn’t that obvious. I guess I thought it was best for the kids, but now I’m not sure. Do you think I should stay with him for them?

A: Consider what you’re modeling to your children. Your son is clearly observing your mutual hostility, making him uncomfortable. Conflict between parents is damaging to children, undermining their sense of security. Whether you “should stay together for them” is a question only you can answer. That said, staying in a marriage only for the children’s sake is not healthy for anyone — everyone is then unhappy, with that being the relationship model your children witness.

Although the description of your marriage sounds very disheartening, this is unfortunately a common perspective. Many couples stay in an unhappy marriage, believing it can’t get any better, because doing the work is simply too hard. First of all, you both deserve to have a happier, more fulfilling marriage. If you and your husband are often angry with each other, I would first suggest seeking professional help to address your relationship dynamic. Are you both willing to commit to couples therapy? That’s at least a good starting point.

You’ve married someone to help you complete your family-of-origin “unfinished business.” Whatever the dynamic in which you’re engaging, be sure to own your part of those “dance steps” with humility. Although it may seem strange, it helps to limit whatever you say to each other to four sentences or less, as that’s about the limit of the attention span of an unhappy partner.

Consider your position in the relationship and how much you’re willing to change. If the answer is “not much,” or “not at all,” then maybe there’s not much point in going any further. However, given you sent me this question, I suspect you might want to stay in this marriage and make it better. Couples look for marriage to provide a “safe haven,” which requires mutual trust and commitment. To regain that, you will likely need to work hard to return to that safe haven of connection over and over, to fortify it. In my couples work, I am continually reminded that, even the most injured couple, struggling with significant pain and mistrust, can reclaim the opportunity for a loving connection.