Back to school is usually a time filled with excitement and anticipation both for parents and kids. But as summer draws to an end this year, parents and children nationwide are facing uncertainty and a whole new set of expectations for the coming school year due to COVID-19. While the American Academy of Pediatrics says that “the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” that may not be the case in your area.
Some school districts are opting for fully remote learning models, others are offering a hybrid that combines in-person and remote learning, while others are committing to full in-person learning this fall. Each option carries with it a different set of expectations, and even fully in-person models will look very different than previous years. These new expectations are likely stirring up feelings of stress and anxiety in your child.
Here are 5 Ways to Help Your Child Manage School-Related Stress This Fall.
1. Be a Role Model
Children will be watching you for how to react and feel about schools reopening or moving to remote learning. Focus on the positives, like more family time if they’ll be staying home, or reuniting with their friends if they’re headed back to school.
One of the best ways you can help your child cope with stress and anxiety surrounding schools reopening is to model healthy stress management techniques yourself. Mark Reinecke, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute cautions parents to “Watch out for catastrophic thinking.” He urges parents to “keep a sense of perspective, engage in solution-focused thinking, and balance this with mindful acceptance.”
Matthew Hanlon, Men & Couples Therapist at Cedar Tree Counseling, offers mindfulness techniques in the five-part series Mindfulness During Quarantine: Why You Need to Be Kind to Yourself.
2. Practice Safety Procedures at Home
Schools that are offering in-person learning this fall are following the guidelines created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that require the use of face coverings for all individuals in the building (with some exceptions). This can be a big change for many kids who have, for the most part, been home since March.
Try having your child wear their masks for increasing periods of time at home. Gail Robertson, a child psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri suggests making mask-wearing into a game. “Because we have this association in our culture with (public health) being scary,” she said. “Having (face coverings) as a part of play is essential.”
3. Maintain Consistent Routines
Whether your child will be participating in in-person learning full time, half time, or not at all, maintaining a routine is an easy way to put your kids at ease. The Child Mind Institute article Supporting Kids During the Coronavirus Crisis notes, “Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Kids, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.”
4. Monitor Social Media and Internet Usage
Now, more than ever, it’s important to monitor your child’s social media and internet usage. Viewing constant COVID-19 related updates can increase fear and anxiety in kids. It’s important to be aware of what your children see and hear about COVID-19. When you have that information, you can address misinformation as soon as they encounter it.
Worried about how phone usage is affecting your teenager? Click here to learn the pros and cons of teenage phone usage from Adolescent Therapist, Richard Keezer.
5. Be Honest and Accurate
When you do talk to your kids about COVID-19 and what it means for their return to school, keep it age-appropriate and simple. “Talking to children in a clear, reasonable way about what’s going on is the best way to help them understand,” says Rachel Busman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “But remember kids don’t need to know every little thing.”
The therapists at Cedar Tree are here to help as you and your child manage school-related stress. For additional help, check out our parenting blogs or schedule an appointment with one of our therapists.
Jessica Korzyniewski contributed to this article.
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