The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into schooling. In some areas families can select a hybrid of some days at school with masks and plastic dividers. Others will be schooling entirely online, at home. Or they can home school with parents teaching them.  

Through prayer and personal inspiration, you’ll choose what works best for your own children. Having home-schooled, private-schooled, and public-schooled as we raised four children, I came to realize that no two kids are alike, and sometimes the best school for your child does not exist. There may not be a school that can challenge the very bright, nor can it cater to the struggler. Classes are large and teachers do their best to include everyone, but most programs address the middle.

As a substitute high school teacher I could see the fallout, the kids who never quite fit in. Some didn’t figure out the social skills. Some got lost in the giant crowds. Some couldn’t keep up with the academics and suffered from anxiety. Some mastered the lessons quickly and then made trouble to entertain themselves. Very few people click perfectly and love the entire school experience.

There are pros and cons to every choice, but here’s my advice: Once you choose a plan, be all in.  Project excitement, optimism, and confidence in your child. If you express second-thoughts or worries, your child will feel insecure and doubtful as well. It’s the same with moving, going on vacation, having relatives visit—if we’re negative and expect problems, our kids will mirror our attitude. But if we show hope and excitement, they’ll pick up on that as well.

Even before you lock in a decision, pray for confirmation that you’re doing the right thing. Often parents have to juggle their schedules to accommodate the new school routine. Show flexibility. Let kids know how much you value education and how committed you are to helping them with this life-changing opportunity. We should never take it for granted. As President Dieter f. Uchtdorf said, “For members of the church, education is not merely a good idea— it’s a commandment.”

Sometimes I’d ask the high school kids what their plans were for after graduation. Most said college, but some said trade schools. Both are good choices, both can offer fulfilling work and a good income. Let your children follow their passions. But here’s something to think about, and tell them: Do not see college solely as a means to a career. Yes, accounting, medicine, law, and many other fields will require advanced degrees. But even if you want to pursue one of the many jobs that require no college, consider attending at least for awhile. The reason is simply to benefit your brain.

My dad, a college professor, once said, “College teaches you the best that is being thought and said in the world.”  Well, we can debate this. But the point is to expose yourself to the dozens of fields you know nothing about. High school cannot cover everything. When you suddenly find yourself in a class on botany, genetics, advanced coding, nursing, geology, business, broadcasting, philosophy, anatomy, astro-physics, bio-engineering, politics, farming, artificial intelligence, sales, scuba diving, ice skating, dress design—we could fill a book!—your mind opens to new possibilities. Yes, you get a cursory glance at some of these subjects in high school. But it’s not always enough to ignite passion and awaken talents.

If college is out of the question, then become an avid reader. I know many people who say their grandmother or great uncle was the smartest person they ever knew, despite having had to drop out of school to run the family farm. What made the difference? Ongoing education via books!  These people were voracious readers and would read up on things they knew nothing about. The result was a dazzling brain, and an ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, able to ask intelligent questions about that person’s expertise. As Albert Einstein once said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think!”

Something else to remember is that we need to check in with our kids to gage their well-being during these difficult times. As adults we often use our years of experience to know that everything will turn out, but kids don’t have that well to draw upon.  In 2020, parents need to do more than just be examples.

And finally, here is the most important step you can take as school begins again: Make sure your children get back-to-school blessings. Even if you are home schooling, a new year is upon us and they need the assurance and help of a blessing that can encourage them and identify areas of focus. With the disarray of the COVID-19 measures, this can get overlooked. And if your kids are already back in school, don’t fret that it’s too late. Anytime is a good time.

This blessing can also protect your child—at home or away—from Lucifer’s strategies. Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “Now, fathers, I would remind you of the sacred nature of your calling. You have the power of the priesthood directly from the Lord to protect your home. There will be times when all that stands as a shield between your family and the adversary’s mischief will be that power.” Fathers or other trusted Priesthood holders can bring this safety to your children.

President Ezra Taft Benson once said, “”Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released. Callings in the Church, as important as they are, by their very nature are only for a period of time, and then an appropriate release takes place. But a father’s calling is eternal, and its importance transcends time. It is a calling for both time and eternity.”

As our children study and learn, spiritual training should be a key component. In fact, at we’re told that “Spiritual knowledge is more important than secular knowledge.”  If you can help your child solidify their testimony, and learn to both hear and heed promptings from the Holy Ghost, your child can literally go anywhere and succeed. Take advantage of every opportunity you can—and create them—so your child can have these essential gifts. And getting a Priesthood blessing can be a key part of that.

Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.