The coronavirus outbreak has caused major disruptions to daily life and everyone is feeling these changes deeply. Now with the return to school, whether in person or virtually, the usual first day jitters have a whole new meaning.
Our experts at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital understand that returning to school will be welcomed by many parents, students and teachers, but others will experience high levels of anxiety about returning when we are still facing some uncertainties and unknowns in the time of COVID-19.
Digital learning concerns range from the challenges associated with teaching younger or special needs children through virtual modalities to the strain virtual learning has on children’s social-emotional health.
From an in-classroom perspective, parents and teachers alike are worried about exposure to COVID-19 and what realistic measures will be taken, from wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.
All of this, coupled with a few months of quarantine, may be taking a serious toll on families and teachers.
Dr. Lauren Grodin, Dr. Ximena Flanders and Dr. Tina Jules, pediatric psychologists at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital offer these five tips to help navigate some of the complex feelings children, parents and teachers may be facing about the start of school.
5 Ways to Cope With Anxiety for Children and Adults
Datasource: Tips to Prevent Back to School Anxiety
1. Start having conversations.
Parents should start speaking with their children, ask them questions, listen to their worries, and provide validation and assurances. It is important to remember that it is ok to have some unknowns.
2. Be positive.
Children are looking to adults for cues on how to feel about new situations. If the adult presents the facts in a positive tone and manner, kids will feel more at ease and be more positive.
- For e-learners: Emphasize what is good about distance learning and how this is a short-term necessity so everyone can go back school, in person, healthier and stronger.
- For in-person education: Talk to your children about safety procedures and what they should expect and do to stay safe. Talk to the kids about the “social emotional benefits” in words they can understand. Focus on the fun they will have with their classmates and remind them of what they liked about school before the pandemic.
3. Flexibility and patience are essential for teachers and parents.
Now more than ever, it will be a collaborative effort between all parties, since many families are adjusting to the new normal of parenting, teaching and working simultaneously.
4. Feeling safe is the way to ace this school year.
Teachers should understand how the school will prepare and what precautions will be taken, so they can reassure the parents and they, themselves are comfortable in their educator role.
5. Self-care is paramount.
Adults must take time to check in with themselves and with their children and engage in activities that promote good stress management. Examples include:
- Implement a daily/weekly schedule or write out a to-do list to help maintain structure, predictability, and organization.
- Focus on the things that you can control vs. things that are not in our control.
- Take a gradual approach. Focused on one step at a time.
- Take a few minutes a day to pause and practice mindfulness.
- Incorporate stretching and/or deep breathing exercises.
- Take a 10-minute walk outside to reset between activities or responsibilities.
- Engage in something fulfilling (e.g., listen to music, draw, color, write, cook, etc.)
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Establish a good sleep schedule.
- Talk to someone in your support system (friend, family member).
- Know when to ask for help.
If a parent feels their child is showing coping concerns beyond what they are able to address, the best place to start is your pediatrician. They can evaluate your child and refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist based on his/her needs.
At Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, we are growing our outpatient psychiatry services and are offering telehealth options if need be. But always start with your trusted family pediatrician to assess your child's needs.