Back to school anxiety will be a major factor for a lot of students going back to school after COVID-19. Dealing with anxiety can be tough for parents, so here is some information about back to school anxiety, as well as some tips to help your child deal effectively with anxiety in general.
Back to School Anxiety – Is it Real?
Whether your child is in elementary, middle school, or high school, anxiety about going back to school is quite real and should not be dismissed. As we all know, it is quite normal to feel anxious or worry on occasion, but if it becomes chronic, it can interfere with the ability to enjoy many things in life, including school. Anxiety can even become so debilitating that it interferes with making decisions, participating in activities, and social interactions.
Feeling anxious or concerned after an extended stay of being at home during COVID-19 is really quite normal, so don’t be quick to think your child has an anxiety disorder or falls into the moderate or severe ranges. COVID-19 was legitimately a scary situation and still continues to pose questions and concerns in everyone’s minds about health and safety.
In order to better understand anxiety related conditions and disorders, according to WebMD, generalized anxiety disorder is “worrying about things one cannot control,” whereas panic disorder usually manifests symptoms such as: sweating, trembling, shaking, flashes of fear, and racing heartbeat. In addition, sometimes anxiety and depression get confused because they both share a biological basis tied with neurotransmitter function. According to verywellmind.com, “Anxiety and depression can occur sequentially (one in reaction to the other), or they can co-occur.”
Although your child is probably just experiencing normal nervousness and feeling anxious, there are some signs that can help you assess whether your child has anxiety about going back to school. Whether you send your child to a boarding school, private day school, public, or charter school, it is important to watch for the signs of distress and deal with them directly.
Harvard Medical School cites a few symptoms related to back to school anxiety, so ask these questions to better determine your child’s state-of-mind as school opening approaches or is in session:
- Is your child asking repetitive questions about various school scenarios?
- Is your child bringing up physical ailments such as: stomach aches, fatigue, or headaches?
- Is your child having any sleep issues while falling to sleep or worries upon waking up?
- Is your child avoiding activities or refusing to go to school altogether?
Dealing with Back to School Anxiety – 10 Tips for Parents
When preparing for a return to school, think about it from your child’s perspective, so that you can show empathy and support. It is important to remember parents are feeling anxious too, so self-care is also very much part of this scenario.
So, let’s explore some ways we can help our children and ourselves. These tips apply not only to COVID-19, but also to any stressors that can lead to heightened levels of nervousness, anxious thinking, and a reluctance to go back to school.
- First and foremost, don’t deny the emotional expressions of anxiety. Allow your child to express their concerns, whether it be about the pandemic, teachers, fellow students, friendship issues, or homework loads.
- Practice daily routines with your child, such as: making the bed, eating breakfast, packing lunch, gathering books/supplies, and the walk to school.
- Make sure sleep is a priority in your household by setting specific bedtimes and wake up times. Also, remember to keep sounds low, lights off, and technology in a separate room.
- Encourage your child to spend time outdoors in nature and get plenty of physical activity.
- Teach your child the 333 rule. When feeling anxious, look at 3 things, hear the sounds of 3 things, and move 3 parts of the body.
- Practice breathing and calming techniques with your child. Play some calm music, sit still, and take deep breaths with slow exhales.
- Allow your child space and time out from stimuli such as: noise, crowds, big events, and other forms of high stimulation. For teens, make a point to watch loud music and the amount of time spent on cell phone devices.
- Share information with your child’s teacher(s) and staff to keep them informed.
- Allow your child to share their thoughts and concerns with siblings, neighbors, close friends, schoolmates, teachers, and coaches, so there is a community of support both at home and at school.
- Be a role-model by staying calm and healthy yourself because kids follow your lead and absorb your emotions.
How Schools Deal with Anxiety – Choosing the Right School Matters
Parents are not alone in dealing with COVID-19, so make your child’s school an ally. How schools deal with anxiety can either help or hinder students, especially after a situation like a pandemic. So, if you are in the process of thinking about a new school for your child, consider how well they handled COVID-19 in the past, as well as their current protocols for mental wellness, health, and safety. The Counseling Department, Health Center, faculty, coaches, and staff all play a role at schools, so seek out information.
Take advantage of the resources offered at your child’s school. If your child is attending a large public school, teachers are in charge of large groups of students and counselors are usually for academics primarily; however, some public schools have a nurse on duty and offer physical education classes to help reduce stress. They might also provide information about vaccinations, healthcare, and prevention that can put students and parents’ minds at ease.
At most private day schools, classes tend to be small so teachers often provide a layer of support and direction directly to students. They are able to see visible signs of stress and address students both individually and collectively.
In the case of boarding schools, although kids are living away from home, which in itself can be stressful, there is a wide umbrella of support. Faculty, residential life staff, coaches, and counselors are available to provide education, support, and structured daily schedules to help reduce anxiety. Military academies, in particular, offer very structured daily schedules that promote life balance and self-discipline. Teenagers learn how to create balance between academic classes, sports, clubs/activities, meals, study time, and rest times.
Parents need allies to help create a feeling of stability and safety about going back to school after such a long time at home. Many kids may even express their desire to stay at home because this time may have provided a level of comfort, security, and enjoyment with their families. It may bring up issues related to separation, which in itself, can create anxiety.
In the end, it is important to remember that you cannot protect your children from the many challenges of life and resilience is very important. COVID-19 was an alarming and challenging situation, but life will present other hurdles to your children along the way.
So, remember to let go, so they can become more independent, confident, and resilient. Get your kids ready to go back to school and ward off any reluctance by remembering school prepares them for life. The daily schedule, academic rigor, social interactions, and physical activity help kids take their minds off of things they cannot control.
Hopefully, you will find as your children become more confident in their ability to navigate various stressors, their level of anxiety decreases. However, if this is not the case and anxiety is severe or persistent, it is always wise to seek out a practitioner for guidance. A common starting point is speaking openly with your primary care physician. In addition, you can check your insurance coverage for a list of practitioners, as well as resources at your elementary, middle, or high school.
The good news is that science has paved the way to effective vaccines and we have all found ways to address a very pervasive health concern. As stated often by the medical world, “we are all in this together” and this should bring us all some peace of mind as kids go back to school this fall.
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