Coping With Back-to-School Anxiety

Returning to school after living through the COVID-19 pandemic can be very stressful for any child. Remote learning has taken an emotional, mental, and developmental toll. Many children have fallen behind on their studies, missed out on important milestones, and suffered from a lack of peer interaction that helps develop important social skills.

With declining rates of COVID-19, children are going back to normal classroom schedules, with safety provisions such as masking and physical distancing. Although the return to in-person schooling is more stable, with an interactive learning environment, the transition also presents new mental health challenges.

Even though in-person learning is usually the best for physical and mental health overall, it could take children a while to adapt back. Kids are resilient, but they also have emotions without the maturity to process these emotions a healthy way. Families are also fearful about safety and anxious over the potential illness in the event a classmate tests positive for COVID-19.

Here are some tips to support your children during a return to an in-person school, and how to cope with your own fear and anxieties, to ensure a more successful transition.

Know the Facts and Know What To Expect

Be informed about the real risks and benefits of returning to school during an ongoing pandemic. Consult reputable sources about how the virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted and the requirements for schools to re-open safely.

Be prepared for increased caution over your children’s health, especially younger children. Children with runny nose coughs, and fevers, despite the cause, will be required to stay home until they are feeling well. If a peer tests positive, schools may need to be shut down for a period in the hopes of avoiding an outbreak.

Closing down often can be very hard emotionally, kids can be in school one day doing great, and then out for 10 days for a quarantine. Children get stressed about falling behind on classwork and not being able to keep up.

Observe Your Child’s Behaviour

Whether you feel your child will thrive in the classroom or you worry about a tough re-entry, pay attention to their behaviours.

While some kids will be excited to meet their peers and teachers, other children who’ve adjusted to isolation may feel overwhelmed in a new social environment.

Watch for signs of depression. Children may become withdrawn, develop eating disorders or anxiety around food, and their stress may manifest in abdominal or other physical pain. Children who have been cyberbullied during virtual learning especially will undergo strain in social settings. These problems can affect learning.

Communicate Openly

No matter how your child reacts to going back to school, foster open conversations. Keep checking in, ask them how they are doing, and let them know how you are feeling as well. If they express fear and anxiety, and validate their feelings, your support can help them to continue to be honest with you so that you are aware of and address any issues. At the same time, reassure your kids that schools are following health guidelines.

Sometimes parents are excited to get their kids back in school, but the kids are not. 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.

If possible, stay in touch with the teachers as well, especially if your child is comparing themselves to their peers and worrying they are not performing at their best. More important, listen and know that your child is listening to you. Kids are going to hear what their parents are saying about politics and policies. Kids talk about this and it can add stress for them too. It is good to just let them know the facts.

Make the Right Decision for your Family

Some kids may not be ready for school, like children with ADHD may be flourishing in-home learning, away from distractions. Other children who live in multigenerational housing with at-risk family members are worried about contracting the virus at school and infecting parents and grandparents.

Families that are not sure they are ready, they can weigh the risks and benefits and determine if virtual learning is still the best model for them. A lot of people are anticipating in-person learning with open arms and can’t get back fast enough. It is disheartening that the kids who need support are falling behind, and those families will really benefit from having those services again.

Rely On You Psychologist

Remember that your Child’s psychologist is there to support them and you. They will check on your kid’s mental health during each visit. Many kids have lost loved ones, or their living situations are changing, and they are worried about the future, not just school, but their personal mental health as well.