Back-to-school is normally a time of mixed feeling for children of all ages. They are excited to see their friends again and do the subjects that they love but it’s always tinged with a little anxiety and apprehension too. Younger children might have anxiety about separating from their parents, while teens may be nervous about big academic years and fitting in socially.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has added extra stressors to the experience. Not only will the health and wellness of themselves, friends, and family be on their minds, but children also have to adjust after almost a year of remote learning.
In their time away from school, children have most likely lost valuable time with their peers and worry about fitting in again. To compound this matter, the school simply won’t be the same as it was pre-pandemic. There will be routine changes and hygiene changes that might include wearing masks. When you see all these issues, it’s little wonder that it’s a particularly difficult time for children to go back to their school and that children — and parents — might be anxious.
How to Help Your Child
Parents have a uniquely complicated back-to-school start this year. Kids are excited to go back and see their friends, which could outweigh the anxiety they feel. However, it’s important to have an action plan in place if your child is feeling anxious about returning to the classroom. Here are some of the ways that you can help your child/children go back to school with as much composure as they can muster:
Validate and Communicate
It’s never easy when kids don’t want to go to school in a typical school year, but it becomes more challenging when you know that there is added fear and anxiety this time around. It’s important that you stay calm and speak positively to your child. Always give them the platform to speak, where you will listen and validate their feelings. Don’t feed into the fear and anxiety but let them know that these are completely normal feelings and how proud you are of them for going to school even though they are feeling anxious about it. Open communication with your child is extremely important.
Lead with Positivity
As a parent, it’s essential that you set a precedent for your children. Children are incredibly intuitive and will be able to read how they are feeling about a situation. If you go into the experience wracked with anxiety and guilt, this will only fuel their nervousness.
Try and stay calm, answer any of their questions, and if you can’t answer some of them, let them know that you will find out the answers for them. Work on maintaining a positive appearance and encourage your child to enjoy their time back at school.
Practice the School Routine
Children thrive off routines, and it’s important to put one in place before school begins, particularly if your child is anxious about their return. Get your child up at normal school waking time, get ready, and have breakfast, then you can drive them the school route or bus route. If you are returning home, try and practice some separation exercises by getting them to either do holiday homework or play alone in their room while you do things around the house. Ensure that there is a structure to the day that they can apply when they return to the classroom.
Remind Them About New Safety Measures
We can’t promise our children that they won’t get sick, but we can do everything in our power to teach them how to prevent it. The new safety measures at school will be different and might take some getting used to, so it’s important that you continually remind your child about washing their hands, social distancing, and wearing masks. Remember, though, that this is going to be a challenge for younger children, so don’t be too forceful or harsh.
Allow for Flexibility
We live in incredibly uncertain times, and it’s important that you, and your child, have a flexible mindset. There is a chance that they will have to switch back to remote learning for some of the school years, and it’s important you have communicated this with your child.
Ensure that your home is ready for this possibility and that you show your child that if they do have to work at home for a bit, you have got everything covered. It’s important to communicate that the whole family has to be flexible, and it’s not just them that will have to change their routine.
Keep in Touch with the School
As always, you may not get to see how your child behaves when they are not with you. By staying in touch with the school and your child’s teacher, in particular, you’ll be able to keep tabs on their behavior, performance, and how they are settling in. This is also a good avenue for learning about upcoming changes, closures, and other vital information that could impact your child’s school routine.
Observe Your Child
Whether your child is excited or nervous and whether you think they will strive or struggle in their classroom—it’s always important to pay attention to your child’s behaviors. Some children might be overwhelmed in the social aspect after a year of isolation and remote learning.
The signs to keep an eye out for include your child becoming very withdrawn and anxieties around food. They may get sore stomachs or headaches from stress and have reduced energy. Sleep cycles could be disrupted, they could be more irritable, lack concentration, and they might cry or perform when going to school.
When to Get Help
The anxiety and fear around returning to school often show when your child has trouble separating, but you must keep in mind that this will often reduce over time as they get used to school and their friends.
However, if things don’t improve and drop-off times turn into severe meltdowns, it might be time to seek professional help even after a couple of weeks. Whether your child is suffering from separation anxiety or something else entirely, getting the help of a therapist can help immensely.
OC Teen Center specializes in teen mental health, and we are here to help you. Feel free to get in touch with us if you’d like to know more about how we can work with your child or have any other questions and queries. We look forward to hearing from you.