Dr. Joe Novak
Managing Back-to-School Anxiety
The pandemic has challenged the very roots of our resilience. As summer speeds by and the pandemic continues to run rampant, both parents and kids are feeling back-to-school anxiety. Many questions about school remain unanswered. Whether it will be in-person, remote, or a hybrid of both, school-aged kids and their parents are faced with tough choices. The uncertainty and accompanying anxiety about the future have become the mainstay of our lives today. It is vitally important for parents to check their own fears about their kids going back to school. And kids need to prepare and feel they have a voice in this process.
Here are some tips for parents, teens, and young adults:
It is normal to feel fear and a certain level of anxiety when faced with uncertainty. Parents need to be emotional coaches for their children. They need to listen to their fears, acknowledge and validate those fears, and provide support and guidance.
For teens and young adults, tune into how you are feeling inside your body, acknowledge the fear, and use tools such as deep breathing and self-talk to regulate how your body is reacting. Then, you, with your parents, can begin the process of planning and deciding if going to school is safe for you, based on the information you have.
Parents need to continue the dialogue with their kids about loss of what was normal in their family’s lives prior to the pandemic, and feelings of disappointment and sadness.
Teens and young adults need to express how they feel and acknowledge what it feels like to not be in control of what is happening around them.
Parents need to model sharing how they feel to their kids, and demonstrate how to calm down in the wake of this pandemic.
Get informed. Parents, teens, and young adults need to engage in conversations with their school administrators about what plans have been developed for the return to school, what safety measures have been established, and if the plan and safety measures meet your family’s expectation. If not, seek more information and communicate your concerns.
Prepare for the unexpected. The corona virus continues to spread, and may change even the best return-to-school plans depending on where you live and the level of the outbreak. Stay informed and adjust your school plan as new information becomes available.
Start the transition back to school now. Discuss, as a family, social distancing and germ-fighting strategies, such as hand cleansing and wearing face protection in public. Kids, start increasing the time wearing face protection now to help with adjustment.
Parents, watch for warning signs of more serious problems your child may be experiencing. These signs can include prolonged anxiety, changes in mood, eating habits, and sleep; increased irritability, social isolation, and physical complaints. If these behaviors persist or worsen over a period of two weeks or more, seek help from your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional in your area.
Teens and young adults, if you are feeling overwhelmed, and feel your level of stress and inner tension is not going away or worsening, tell your parents and seek help together.