Returning to school is anxiety provoking in the best of times. This year, COVID-19 can add to those stresses as children worry about becoming ill themselves or spreading it to their loved ones. Therefore, several usual practices will adjust as the schools take steps to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. The changes and routine adjustments will cause many students – and parents – to feel overwhelmed and anxious.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about the current pandemic, and that can be anxious for all of us – especially for children who thrive on structure and routine,” says Nicholas J. Westers, Psy. D., ABPP, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor at UT Southwestern. “To be able to cope with this uncertainty and to recognize that feeling like that is okay is an important part of supporting mental health during this time.”
Signs and Symptoms to be Aware of
Children may express their anxiety in various ways. You know your child best, so be on the lookout for actions and mood changes in your child, like:
- Improved irritability or resistance
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Symptoms such as nausea, muscle pain or dizziness
- Unwilling to go to school
If your child shows any of these signs, they may be anxious about going back to school or about COVID-19 in general.
How to Maintain Mental Well-being in Your Child During COVID-19
During COVID-19, try using some of these strategies to help your child cope with back-to-school anxiety and stress:
- Check with your children regularly, and listen to their concerns. Make sure their emotions are validated and let them know their frustrations and worries are understandable.
- Focus on what your child can do to counter the pandemic, such as washing their hands, wearing a face mask and maintaining social distance.
- Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep, is active physically and consumes nutritious food to ensure a healthy body and mind.
- Encourage your child to do things that they enjoy, be it reading, playing outdoors or any other sports.
- Ease your child back into a structured daily routine and sleep schedule whether your child will come back to school in person or digitally.
- Visit your child’s school ahead of the first day of classes if possible or allow your child to meet their teacher in a socially distant situation.
Dr. Westers suggests using some of these strategies during COVID-19 to help your child deal with back-to-school anxiety and stress:
- Help your child respond to COVID-19 measures like wearing a face mask by doing homework. If they find wearing a mask awkward, it’s okay to feel empathy for your kid. Let them know that even though it can often be uncomfortable, wearing a mask is an important way we can help protect others. Learn more tips to help kids learn to wear a mask.
- For older children, inform them that by taking safety guidelines, they help to protect others and bring good to their society.
- Set up ways for your child to continue to socialize safely over the phone or video chat with their peers, particularly if they engage in distance learning.
- Teach your child to do breathe exercises when they feel anxious.
- Send positive or encouraging notes to the lunch or backpack for your child.
- If your child is prone to anxiety and still has trouble dealing with it, do not hesitate to seek medical advice and assistance.
Lastly, it’s important to acknowledge that this time of uncertainty is stressful for parents, and that parents should take steps to care for themselves, too.
“We know from research that children can tell when their parents are stressed and anxious,” says Dr. Westers. “Talk to your child about your feelings and explain the ways that you cope with anxiety. Modeling healthy behaviors and coping skills is one of the best ways you can support your child during this time.”