It’s that time of year again! The return to school always brings a mix of emotions: excitement about the new year, worry about changes in routine, apprehension for new experiences, sadness with the end of summer, and stress around feeling prepared. This fall brings the added layer of uncertainty and concern for safety as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a potential risk to our communities. For many, anxiety and stress is more palpable, and understandably so.
Parents face an especially big challenge of not only managing their uncertainty but also that of their school-bound child. Experts in child and adolescent anxiety and mood disorders recommend the following techniques for supporting kids who may feel anxious or hesitant during the return to in-person learning.
- Validation shows that you hear your child and understand what they’re going through. As a parent you may not feel first-hand what your child is experiencing, but acknowledging that they are going through something difficult can be a powerful tool to helping your child cope. Statements like “I see this is really hard for you.” and “I can imagine why you feel nervous!” are great starts! Pro-tip: this tool can be used with any emotion.
- Problem-solving fixable worries: Many kids’ worries are based in the future and about uncontrollable things, such as a peer being upset with them. But some worries may have a solution, and for fixable worries parents can use problem solving. This teaches children how to cope and boosts their self-esteem! Start by asking your child what their specific worries are (such as not knowing anyone in class or not being able to find their locker) and then ask them how they’d like to fix it. Remember, you can make suggestions if they’re stuck (like setting up a playdate ahead of time or taking a tour of the school) but avoid problem-solving for them.
- Prepare a cope ahead kit: Coping ahead reduces anxiety and stress. You and your child can create a coping kit that can travel to and from school with them. A fidget toy, small snack, note from a parent or friend, and a photo are all great coping kit items! Ask your child what would help them feel better when they’re upset and add it to their coping bag. Parents can prepare a cope ahead plan for themselves also, acknowledging that all of our feelings are normal and ok right now. Preparing to have some uncomfortable feelings and knowing how you will handle your own stress while also supporting your child can help make the situation more manageable in the moment.
The return to school can be an exciting and stressful time, and fall 2021 is no exception. We hope these tools will be helpful to you and your family during the transition back to in-person learning!