Children often have some difficulty returning to school after a “typical” summer break or school vacation, so it’s no surprise that after nearly seven months of not being in school, they are undergoing a multitude of feelings including stress, fear, excitement and confusion. Parents and guardians have had to make a difficult decision, based on your family’s needs, of whether to have your child return to school remotely or in-person. Regardless of the plan you have chosen, many children are experiencing increased levels of anxiety now that they are back. Parents play an essential role in influencing children to have a positive transition back into school, by helping them cope with their anxiety and fears. The following five strategies will help guide you in supporting your child and reducing their anxiety through this stressful period.
#1- Communicate with your child about their fears/anxieties
Having open, honest, factual and age appropriate conversations with your child about their return to school will be extremely beneficial for them.
Listen to and validate their worries- Let them know it’s natural to feel anxious at this time of transition. Try asking questions like , “What is worrying you the most?” and “Tell me about how you’re feeling” about being back in school?”, will help open up conversations.
Helping them “name” their worries will help them learn how to control them
Reassure them but don’t be unrealistic- there is a difference between saying, “Don’t worry it will be fine” versus “It’s okay to worry but adults are working hard to keep you safe”.
#2 – Have discussions about logistics of returning to school:
If your child is returning to in-person or hybrid learning, inform your child about what this will look like for them. For instance, educating them on the need to wear protective clothing, being socially distanced from their friends and the need for frequent handwashing. For smaller children in particular, practicing wearing their mask is recommended. Also discussing how things will look different with smaller class sizes, not being able to go into other classrooms and changes in specialists classes.
Discussing and outlining what a remote learning or homeschool plan will look like is also recommended. Establishing guidelines for remote/homeschool learning will be helpful. For instance, where will your child be conducting remote learning, who will be available to check-in/assist them if needed, what will the schedule for your district look like?
#3-Examine your attitudes and anxieties :
The COVID-19 Pandemic has triggered anxiety in most people, due to there being so many unknowns during this time. Managing our own anxieties is one of the most important things we can do to help our children. Modeling good coping behaviors and promoting problem solving is essential for your child’s success. The attitude and tone of our messages about returning to school is as equally important as the content of what we are saying to our children. Children will respond to how adults react to stress and anxiety and monitoring what is said in front of them is important. Practicing self care and talking about frustrations about returning to school with other adults are good habits.
#4-Highlight the Positives:
Try to help your child focus on what is going well with the transition back to school. Maybe there is something they are looking forward to about returning to school, like seeing their classmates? Do they like their teacher or have a favorite class?
If your child is having particular trouble with transitioning back to in-person learning, highlighting small victories may be helpful; Like attending half days or participating in part of the week.
#5- Focus on what you do have control of:
Getting back into routines before returning to school will help children with this transition. Over the past several months, many families have had later bedtimes, lazy mornings and more screen time. It will help your children to have these schedules tightened up again. Starting bed-time earlier, weaning off of screen time and thinking about starting the days earlier.
Use supports and outlets that have worked in the past – Whether you child likes music, art, sports or another activity, these extra-curricular activities can help them have positive outlets to focus on and distract themselves from their stress.
Lastly, if your child has struggled with anxiety in the past this change may trigger increased anxiety symptoms. If they have been engaged in therapy in the past, it may be a time to reach out to their therapist again for additional support. Your school system likely has an adjustment counselor who can also be an excellent resource in helping your child manage a range of emotions related to the many changes they are facing at this time.