Help for parents facing back-to-school uncertainties and anxiety
For both parents and students, both situations bring a degree of stress when it comes to making a decision, weighing the pros and cons and potential consequences. The logistical choices and changes have mental health implications in children who may struggle with anxiety and depression due to all the uncertainties they are facing including the loss of face-to-face peer and teacher interactions.
Since no option is necessarily the right option, it boils down to what truths a family feels are most relevant for them. If children physically return to school, given the limitations of the family to support online learning, then children need to be able to accept the rules associated with mask-wearing, safe distancing, and handwashing protocols. Going to school every day under these conditions will be an adjustment for both students and teachers. Talk with your kids about the things they can control, which include wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying distant.
In a school year with more changes than most, it’s a crucial time in teaching important life lessons on being flexible and resilient. Routine is key for children of all ages, especially when it comes to home learning.
Signs of anxiety
Pay close attention to your changes in your child’s sleep habits and any behavioral and emotional changes which may stem from the fear of the unknown. A child dealing with anxiety and depression may become aggressive, irritable, or withdraw. Other signs to look for are if your child is especially clingy, seems to need more attention than usual, or is complaining about physical issues like upset stomach and headaches.
For some students, the return to school is just one more layer of stress to a string of difficulties during the past few months facing their household. The pandemic has resulted in many losses that children have had to navigate including losing a loved one due to COVID-19, job loss, financial strains, or other trauma which they are unable to process without professional guidance.
What can I do as a parent to help my child adjust this school year?
Even though a lot is uncertain, there are still some things parents can control. Preparing them for the new school year – in class or at home – is the first step.
Parents who verbalize their core beliefs surrounding uncertainty and how they respond to it influence their children to either adapt or avoid. Adapting to change by addressing what we can and cannot control helps to reduce anxiety and fear. The key is to own what you feel is the right choice and model with confidence.
Talk to children about what to expect. Help children to identify and express their feelings about excitement, worries, fears, and hopes. When children’s anxiety seems to interfere with their being able to do what kids normally do like play, have fun or learn, that may be a sign that a child needs extra support, including mental health support.
Over time, change becomes less difficult, and possessing the willingness to adapt and to allow time to get used to doing things differently is beneficial for both parents and students.
If your child is exhibiting concerning behaviors, contact a school counselor, or outside mental health provider. Community Care Services is offering virtual mental health therapy and group-based services to children through Telehealth.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 35 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.