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Back to school Covid anxiety

Dealing with your kids’ and your own worries
What will classrooms look like this fall? Photo: Halfpoint

Usually at this time of year I am awaiting school supply shopping lists, looking for deals on backpacks and tennis shoes, and taking inventory of what no longer fits. This year all of that is on hold. With Covid-19 numbers continuing to spike, there is conflicting information daily both nationally and locally about what schools should do. All this uncertainty is creating anxiety for both students and parents. I recently saw a funny parenting meme that said, “It’s almost August — am I buying school supplies or more alcohol?” Parents have a lot of questions and concerns. All we can do is be honest and reassuring for our children. This is easier said than done, especially when there are still so many unknowns, but here are some tips to help: 

GET INFORMED

One of the best ways to ease anxiety is to be informed. Information and decisions are constantly changing, but staying on top of the data and research through trusted news sources is critical. Know your school’s plan and what safety and health precautions have been put in place. Based on all the information I have read and the educators I have talked to, the plan for each school could be different. Most will begin with distance learning; others may combine that with some time on campus. School administrators and teachers are doing their best, and honestly, I think we all thought we would have a better handle on the virus by now. 

Parents feel stuck, and many might need to choose between their jobs or staying home with their child. Others have to go to work, so having their children home with no childcare isn’t an option. I have seen many families on social media offering to create their own pods and hiring a teacher, basically homeschooling but without the burden on the parents of teaching. As plans become clearer, parents will have to make choices about what is best for the health and safety of their own families. 

COMMUNICATE

As your children start to wonder about the new school year, communication is key. Tell them what you know, ask how they are feeling, and look for signs they might be feeling more anxious than they are letting on. I have been reminded weekly during this pandemic that our children are more resilient and flexible than we give them credit for. Our oldest will be a freshman starting high school, and I have said that I just hope she is able to start in a “normal” way. The start of her freshman year will be different than any of us thought, but we keep telling her we know she will make the best of it. We all have questions including how much longer will this last? and when will things be normal again? We don’t know how long, as we adapt to a new normal. 

MODEL CALM

Kids look to us in times of uncertainty and they pick up cues from us on how we are dealing with that uncertainty. So if we are calm about the situation, they will be, too. If you aren’t calm, find a place away from your children to express it. If they see us constantly talking to others about the start of school and the safety of returning, that will heighten their anxiety. Be careful of your conversations when they are around, and if they have questions, answer them honestly and appropriately. 

It is also important to teach them calming strategies especially if they will be returning to the classroom. We have become used to not being around many people, and we are getting comfortable with wearing masks for longer time periods. But for children, especially younger ones, this can be challenging, so use these weeks until school begins to practice. When our youngest feels like he wants to take off his mask, we use a special breathing technique or tell him to sing his favorite song in his head. I introduced my teen daughter to a sleep meditation app that I have found helpful, which she now uses if she can’t fall asleep. We also remind them of the importance of taking care of their bodies and exercising regularly, which is helpful for remaining calm.

There are many different challenges with the start of this new school year. To help with the adjustment, establish a routine, set expectations, and check in on both their academic progress and social emotional learning. This school year will require patience, kindness, and flexibility. Let’s remember that when dealing with administrators, teachers, our children, and our partners. 

Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]

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