If you’re a parent, it helps to have a good memory.

Remember being 4 years old and starting school.

You arrive on the first day in a new outfit: a new sweater and shoes that are just a little too big.

Your teacher is giving you books and a fat pencil to learn to write and puzzles to use. You have your own chair, your own place in the classroom.

It’s a new world. Everything you see, everything you hear is new. Remember how excited you were.

At the end of that first day, you’re exhausted. When you get home, you cannot stop talking about school. You talk to your parents, your sisters, your neighbour. When your mother looks in on you in your room, your stuffed animals are in an organized half circle. You are playing school.

Fast Forward 10 years. You are 14 years old, starting high school.

You have a new outfit for the first day and new shoes. You’re happy to have cool clothes to start the year, to make an impression.

Once again, teachers are giving you books and supplies – a Chrome Book. You are given instructions on how to find your own work on a website with your own page, to keep you organized.

You have 4 teachers and 4 different website locations.

You are excited and you might want to talk, but you might not. You hope you don’t need that conversation with your parents, your sisters or your neighbour. Needing people doesn’t reflect who you want to be.

If, as a parent, you remember being 4 and 14 and those different beginnings to a school year, you will have a head start being ready for the conversations your child – whether they’re 4 or 14 – wants to have this year as school starts. Even recounting your own memories of starting school can spark a conversation about this new and challenging school year that children and youth are starting. If you can remember those days of starting school, you will be able to relate to the mixed feelings kids are experiencing as they face new and sometimes confusing safety routines. If you can remember, you will be able to have empathic conversations about masks, and social distances, and rigorous cleaning routines and confusing rules.

All parents need to be ready for these conversations with kids. This year, playing school can be terrifying.

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