Back to School Anxiety during a Pandemic
Families are making difficult decisions about whether or not to send their children to school in September. If you decide to send your children and they are nervous, here are some ideas to help manage the transition:
- Try exposure exercises to help with separation. If your children have been at your side since schools closed, try giving them increased opportunities for independence and time away from you.
- It also may be helpful to practice wearing a mask at home to make it feel more natural and automatic.
- Carve out time to ask your children about their thoughts and feelings about returning to school. Make space for them to express themselves. Drawing or playing can also be helpful ways to process their feelings. This booklet gives some helpful direction for understanding and communicating about the pandemic, partially through art: https://tanyacotlerphd.com/fromfeartohope/ One activity from this booklet encourages children to draw themselves five years from now, so they can focus on coming out on the other side of the pandemic.
- Make ongoing decisions about school attendance slowly, mindfully, and based on trusted information. Try taking an intentional 15-minute pause before making last-minute decisions about school attendance. Your children’s feelings are important to take into account; however, don’t let anxiety call the shots about school attendance. Making slow, mindful choices about attendance can help your children be confident that you are making careful decisions based on the best information you have, instead of letting anxiety take control.
- Focus on what your children can control, like hand washing, wearing masks, and physical distancing. It can feel better to have the power to take concrete actions to protect themselves and their community.
- It also may be helpful to work on accepting what we can’t control. Instead of offering empty platitudes, validate their feelings and admit that this is a difficult time for everyone. Remind them that we are all doing the best we can. Instead of focusing on unpredictable outcomes, focus on how they would cope and get through difficult situations. Focus on their strength and resilience and your faith in them to get through difficult times. Try reminding them of times that they showed bravery and conquered a difficult challenge.
- Help your kids understand that it is normal to feel nervous about going back to school, but the nervousness won’t hurt them, and they can still make it through the day.
Remember that hard times can make us stronger, especially when we feel loved and supported!