Students heading back to school may experience fear and anxiety around how the school setting has changed, and how it will affect them. Additionally, the concern of contracting COVID, even though the vaccine has been made available, can cause additional tension around heading back to school.
Why kids may feel anxiety about returning to school
As most of the districts in Maryland prepare to return to school, we begin to face a new set of challenges. For children who have been home with their families for most or all of the COVID -19 time period, it will mean an end to a year of togetherness. Other children feel anxiety as we head back into the world because we constantly remind them to not get close to others, keep their masks on and wash their hands. And of course for many, there is an excitement around going back to school even though it will look very different.
How to identify stress and anxiety in kids
You may consider having a candid conversation with your child about how they feel returning to school. Listen to what your child is saying when they talk about going back into the classroom. Are they excited? Or do they seem hesitant and anxious? Some parents might see their children, even older kids, becoming more clingy and not wanting to be away from parents or home. Here are some ways to support our children who are grappling with fear around returning.
Tips for coping with back to school anxiety
Be calm and supportive
It’s no surprise that our children can sense when we are anxious, especially when everyone has been together for so long. If they express their fears or worries with you, let them know you are listening. It’s important that we give them a place where they can share their feelings. Validate their feelings without growing their fears.
Set your routine and practice
Before the first day back, do a few practice runs of what it will look like for them on their mornings back to school. This will look different for everyone. Also give your children time to practice what school is going to be like upon their return. Some children need time to practice wearing masks for longer periods of time so that the first day won’t feel so constricting. Others might need time away from their parents such as playing independently to get used to the separation they will face when returning to school buildings.
Practice coping skills
Build deep breathing or meditation into your daily routines. Talk about emotions with your child so they feel they can express themselves. Find time to focus on the positive things around you and highlight those to children. Try one of these exercise to help your child cope with anxiety about returning to school:
18 coping skills and strategies for children with anxiety
5 tips for creating a safe and gentle space to process anxiety with your kids
While you are transitioning to new routines, remind children that they are going to have to be flexible as well. Schedules may need to change. Schools may need to close at some point, or cohorts of students may be sent home. This is a time where students should be prepared for changes. As parents, we too will need to be flexible. Keep in mind that this is yet another large-scope change for teachers who will now teach students virtually and in person, often at the same time. Be patient and extend grace to educators as we are all in this together.
When to seek additional help
While you navigate through the transition as a family, keep in mind that you and your child will need time to adjust. If you feel like the transition is not going well or your child is struggling, reach out to the school counselor, social worker or school psychologist; they might be able to help provide support in school as well as additional resources available in your areas.
Natalie Mangrum is the founder and CEO of Maryland Teacher Tutors. She is a reading specialist with a bachelors in elementary education and masters in education. As a parent to two young adults, and prior teacher, Natalie knows all too well the benefits of one-on-one tutoring and coaching for students. Her mission is to ensure that every aspect of MTT is done in a spirit of excellence! She enjoys alleviating the concerns of parents so they can breathe easy knowing their children are in good hands!