Coping With Back-to-School Anxiety during Covid-19

Going back to school can be stressful for any child, especially now for those living through the current pandemic and having to return to the classroom.

Remote learning has taken an emotional, mental, and developmental toll on learners. Some children have fallen behind in their studies, missed out on milestones, and may be struggling with the lack of peer interaction that helps develop social skills.

There are many mixed feelings among both parents and children about returning to school. While attending school is important for children, families may be fearful about the safety protocol implemented or they may be anxious over the potential re-closures or re-openings of the school when Covid cases rise and fall.

Although a return to school promises a more stable, interactive learning environment, the transition also presents new mental health challenges. It will be expected that the children adapt to the new routine of being on the school premises, follow the timetable more strictly, and interact with their peers. While children are resilient, they experience and process their emotions according to their developmental level. This means that they may miss the nuances of what is explained regarding the purpose of re-closure or re-opening of school. Depending on their age, they may even miss the comfort of being at home with familiar items and people.

Know the Facts and What to Expect

It is important to be informed about the real risks and benefits of returning to school during a pandemic. Be prepared for increased concern over your child’s health. Children with runny noses, coughs, and fevers, despite the cause, will be required to stay at home until they feel well. If a peer tests positive for the virus, schools may need to shut down for a period of time in the hope of avoiding an outbreak.

Closing down for a period of time could be difficult on an emotional level for any learner. They may be in school and achieving good grades, and then suddenly are instructed to go into 10 days of quarantine. This may precipitate stress about falling behind in classwork or not being able to keep up with what is expected when working online.

Observe Your Child’s Behaviour

Whether you anticipate your child will thrive in the classroom or you worry about a tough re-entry into the school environment, pay attention to your child’s behaviors.

Some children will be excited to meet their peers and teachers, while other children may feel overwhelmed in a new social environment after adjusting to isolation. As they will be leaving their safety net, they may also experience separation anxiety when expected to return to school.

Monitor for signs of anxiety or depression: children may become withdrawn; develop eating disorders or anxiety around food, or their stress may manifest in abdominal or other physical pain. Children who have been cyberbullied during virtual learning will especially go through emotional strain in social settings at school.

These problems can affect learning. Even though in-person learning is usually best for their physical and mental health, it could take a while to adapt back to being in the classroom.

Communicate Openly

No matter how your children are reacting to going back to school, foster open conversations. Keep ‘checking-in’ with your children, ask them how they are doing and let them know how you are feeling as well.

If they express fear or anxiety, validate their feelings – your support can help them continue to be honest with you so that you can be aware of and able to address issues. At the same time, reassure children that schools are following health guidelines to protect them.

Sometimes parents are excited that their children are back at school, but the children themselves may not be as enthusiastic. If your child is reluctant to return, even if you have different views, try to make them feel confident you are doing everything in your power to keep them safe and comfortable.

Make the Right Decision For Your Family

Some children may not be ready to return to school, for example, children with ADHD may be flourishing with online, home learning away from distractions. If your child is benefitting from being at home, why send them back to a classroom situation? Other children who live in multigenerational housing, with at-risk family members, may be worried about contracting the virus at school and infecting their parents and grandparents when they return home at the end of the day. You may think that continuing with online learning may help keep your child’s anxiety in check.

Deciding to permanently move over to homeschooling is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Weigh the pros and cons before this life-altering decision is made.