Options, Pivots & Unknowns: 7 Tips to Manage Back to School Anxiety
Not so long ago, you and your children may have relaxed in the waning holiday glow of 2019, thinking about the return to school, looking forward to a new year. Perhaps you longed for the warmth of spring and the summer vacation to come in 2020.
Little did you know that the return to school would be short-lived and fraught with worries you could have never dreamed up. But here we are. And there they go, back to school. Sort of.
Whatever your situation, one thing is clear: academia in the age of COVID-19 comes with anxiety for the whole family. And with all that’s on your plate, one of your most important tasks is to help put your child’s mind at ease.
The following ideas might be good ways to infuse more calm into an uncertain time.
7 Tips to Manage Back to School Anxiety
1. Lead with Acceptance
Your child is grounded and stabilized by their life at school. Never again will we take for granted how much they learn and grow academically and socially within the institution. It’s important to acknowledge that together.
Help your children to name their sense of loss and recognize the magnitude of the change. Give them permission to notice, feel, and accept what is. Talk about accepting life as it comes and then decide together to move forward.
Abruptly adjusting is always challenging but you can show them that life goes on in new and extraordinary ways if you let it.
2. Name and Affirm Their Feelings
Self-awareness has a calming effect on racing thoughts and upset. For children who feel as if the rug has been pulled from beneath them academic and socially, being able to identify the anger, boredom, sadness, etc can help them regulate it.
If you can, try to start and end the day with an intentional emotional check-in. Ask your kids to name, rate, or write down how they’re doing. Simply making them aware can be a powerful indicator that their feelings matter and that you care to know what they are.
3. Connect to Combat Worry
Everyone is scrambling right now, everyone needs support. Remind your kids that despite the little islands our homes can feel like right now, there are other kids and grownups experiencing the same back to school anxiety.
Use those Ipads and computer screens to share and reach out emotionally as well as academically. Look for support groups online and virtual playgroups. Talk to your child’s school to see if there are ways to connect safely outside of class time. Continue to develop a sense of community and comfort in relationships.
4. Play “Capture that Thought”
Anxiety can swoop in and derail anyone, even your kids. They likely have to deal with the same deluge of worries that you do. Their worlds are smaller but no less important to them. So, a helpful anxiety buster is to practice challenging the negative thoughts that can ruin a perfectly good day.
Teach them to ask questions internally like “is that really true?” or “is that really helpful?” when they feel upset. If they feel like their head is particularly full of negativity, give them a journal to chart their feelings. Together you can discuss what bothers them and why. Soon they may feel less harassed and more empowered to choose their responses.
5. Get Quiet
Preschool teachers know the beauty of a good nap in the lives of frenzied or upset children. The concept of being quiet and still is still genius and restorative.
Think about how much stimulus your children are enduring on screens all day now. Consider how many little frustrations they feel, just like you. Carve out quiet time without devices or instruction. Listen to soft music or just lay on the living room floor and do nothing. Now is the time to choose your activities wisely and teach your children to find their own calm.
6. Get Moving
On the other side of the calm coin is to get up and get out. Rain or shine, kids need to work off some of their anxious energy. Give them ample opportunity to run, jump, and yell. Recess is not expendable.
7. Set Reasonable Priorities
Many parents are concerned about their children’s academic progress. You, too, may be worried. Try not to make those concerns your child’s worry. As adults, we are charged with coming up with the appropriate academic solutions. Your child simply needs to be put in the position to do the best they can.
Home should still remain a safe place. Try not to let school time devolve into yelling, crying, and threats. You are not a teacher and the kitchen is not a school. Simply do the best you can and end the day with a hug. It’s okay. Pandemics don’t last forever.
When You Need More Help
Pandemic academics are challenging, to the say the least. Anxiety about it is completely normal. However, you and your kids don’t have to suffer through it on your own. It’s okay if you and your child(ren) need more help. The most important thing is to ensure your mental and emotional well-being first.
Therapy is a good first step for families that need support. Sharing your feelings and setting family goals is a great way to take the pressure off at home. Please read more about anxiety treatment and contact me for a consultation soon. Let’s go back to school together.
For more information on children's anxiety, click here