School is starting up again and many school districts have gone back to in-person learning. While back to school anxieties are typical during any given year, COVID-19 is still with us, which has added more uncertainty and stress for everyone involved.
Since virtual, at-home learning took place during the previous school year, many kids may now find it difficult to adjust to being away from the safety of their home and parents. Add to that the fear that others around them may unknowingly be sick and you may find that even well-adjusted children are experiencing heightened stress. For children who already suffered from anxiety, however, the return to physical classrooms may mean their anxiety worsens when they return for the first day of class.
What Signs Of Stress Can Be Observed In Children During The COVID-19 Pandemic?
In general, children are resilient. Many kids will manage this transition just fine with help and support from their parents. Those who already struggled with anxiety or emotional problems or who had behavioral or developmental concerns before the pandemic may need additional assistance, though. It’s important that you keep a watchful eye on them, as they might be at risk for increased or severe depression and anxiety.
Signs of stress to watch for include (by age group):
Preschool age – Children in this age group may be more whiny or clingy than usual. They may have problems sleeping, have nightmares, or become afraid of the dark when they weren’t before. You may also find that they withdraw or their behavior may regress. They may lose their appetite or become picky eaters.
5 – 9 – Children who are in elementary school also may be clingier. They may be angrier or more irritable and cry or otherwise resist to going to school. They might have nightmares and sleep problems, along with poor concentration. In addition, your child may stop showing interest in friends or activities they used to enjoy.
10 – 19 – Adolescent children may show everything from sleeping and eating disturbances to agitation or arguments with others. They may have physical complaints such as headaches or stomach aches. They may also exhibit poor concentration or engage in some type of delinquent behavior.
Parent Anxiety About School During Covid
The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic makes in-person schooling nerve-wracking for some parents. Obviously, they are apprehensive about their child’s health and well-being, but they also have to address their child’s concerns and reassure them that they will be safe in school. For many, it’s a balancing act of trying to be supportive while also telling the child to be careful, wear their mask, and social distance. Talk about stressful!
It is important to keep in mind that your children look up at you for guidance on how they should react during times of stress. You want to show them that they need to take the situation seriously, but without panicking.
We all do better when we have a sense of control over something that worries us. Children are no different. Discuss their fears and help them find positive ways to deal with their stress.
Ensure they know how to wear a mask correctly (it should cover their nose and mouth). Teach them to carry and use hand sanitizer and how to wash their hands (wash for the time it takes to sing the birthday song). Make sure they understand how social distancing helps to reduce the spread of the virus. Teach them to cough into their elbow or a tissue and to throw a used Kleenex away immediately.
Lastly, protect your child’s health by encouraging them to eat well, get plenty of sleep and exercise daily. This will help build their immunity so they can fight off illness in the future.
Helping Students Return To School After Covid
Going back to in-person learning is a transition and, as with any big change, there will be upset and stress for a couple of weeks until the child settles into the new routine. This is particularly true during the pandemic, when kids are having to adjust to so many new things.
You may find that your child is overly tired during the first few weeks of school. They may be more emotional than usual or act out more often. But if there are major shifts from their normal behavior – such as withdrawing from friends or refusing to take part in things they usually enjoy – and this behavior doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, this could signal problems and you should consider seeking help.
This is the time to sit down and talk to your kids. Encourage them to tell you what’s bothering them; acknowledge their concerns even if you don’t agree with them. When you know what is concerning your child, work with them to come up with a plan for addressing it. What can you, as the parent, do to help? What can the child do? Does the school need to get involved?
Remember that you also need to take care of yourself. What helped you before the pandemic? Was it calming to work on crafts? What about yoga or engaging in exercise? Maybe listening to calming music or reading reduced your stress? Whatever worked in the past should help you now, but you must take the time for self care.
Keep in mind that even just taking a small break can help you mentally regroup and make you feel less overwhelmed. Take a short walk around the block or indulge in some deep breathing exercises. You don’t have to take a long break – a little bit goes a long way!
Pandemic Anxiety? We Are Here For You
If you are experiencing pandemic fatigue and anxiety, we are here to help. Contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center today.