School Anxiety During Covid-19
The Covid-19 Pandemic and the necessary lock-downs and school closings from last year have been particularly difficult for children to process. With school back in session this year, many parents find that their children are struggling with anxiety far more than they were before.
For some children, it comes in the form of separation anxiety. For the better part of a year, families primarily spent all of their time in their homes. Most of us are just used to being at home now with our families. The same is true for kids; they have gotten used to being with their parents every day and in their own space. Your child may find it difficult to be away from home and away from you now that school is back in session.
For other children, anxiety may be coming from a fear of getting sick. While school is back in session, there are still many places with restrictions, such as social distancing and mask wearing. These restrictions remind children that the pandemic is still active and cause them to worry about contracting Covid. Additionally, if your child has lost a loved one to Covid-19, they may be experiencing grief which makes the thought of getting (and passing) Covid even more frightening.
Another reason why some children may be feeling more anxious about school this year is that most students in the United States are several months behind in their education. For the majority of students, distance learning was a struggle last year. Studies by McKinsey & Co have shown that, on average, American students are five months behind in their math studies and four months behind in reading. The study also found that children from lower-income families are even farther behind (up to an additional month) than those from middle and high-income families. The percentage of students who are failing math and reading has increased in basically all grade levels. This academic disadvantage can absolutely cause your child to feel stressed and anxious about going to school.
If your child is experiencing anxiety for any of the reasons listed above, there are some things you can do to help them through it.
Listen and Validate- The most important thing you can do for your child experiencing back-to-school anxiety is listen to their concerns. Sit down with your child and ask gentle questions about their feelings and then validate those feelings. Making sure your child feels heard and understood is so important to help them overcome their struggle with anxiety.
Make a Plan- This is especially important for students struggling to catch up in school. Consider reaching out to your child’s teachers to ask what you can be doing at home to help your child get back on track. Having a daily routine can help your child get into the right mindset for a successful day at school, and it will also help you stay on top of their education and be aware of any additional support they may need.
Encourage Positivity- Positive thinking can be a powerful tool in your mental health tool belt. Help your child learn how to be mindful of their feelings, recognize damaging thought patterns, and reframe their perspective. A great way to help a younger child who is feeling anxious about being away from you is with a small token that they can keep with them during the day to remind them of you. It can be anything from a matching bracelet to a special rock that they found in the front yard—giving them something small in their pocket to help them feel connected to you while you are apart.
Give them Age-Appropriate Information- If your child is anxious about getting sick, they may find it helpful to learn more about how germs spread and what they can do to mitigate their risk. Things like using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask, and social distancing may be less stressful for your child if they understand that these things help keep them safe and lower the risk of getting Covid-19 and many other illnesses. On this note, your child may feel better if they have their own hand sanitizer, extra masks, and even sanitizing wipes in their backpack to keep the area around them as clean as possible. You and your child should take a moment to discuss what they think would help them feel more protected while they are at school.
Be a Good Example- Children take a lot of their internal cues from their parents, so you must attempt to present a relaxed and positive mindset to your kids. Many of us adults are also experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety during these trying times. However, we must try to avoid expressing those anxious thoughts and feelings in front of our children. Your anxiety can often be adding fuel to the fire of your child’s anxious thoughts and feelings.
Let them ask questions- If your child has questions about Covid-19, school, their grades, etc., encourage them to ask you. Even if you don’t know all the answers, it’s okay to say to your child, “that’s a great question, I don’t know the answer, but I will try to find it for you.” Knowing that they can come to you for clarification and trust you to take their questions and concerns seriously is monumental for children.
Get Help- If you find that your child’s anxiety is causing any of the following things, you may want to consider professional support.
Avoidance of situations that cause anxiety (such as avoiding going to school)
Physical symptoms with no other medical explanation (such as stomach aches and headaches)
Behavioral problems (such as tantrums, aggression, and violent outbursts)
Anxiety lasting longer than a few weeks
Anxiety that prevents them from enjoying daily activities
Feeling severely anxious most days of the week
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, we can help! Here at Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, we have multiple counselors who specialize in working with children and families to overcome anxiety. Our therapists can help you and your child learn new techniques for navigating big emotions and ways to cope and communicate more effectively. Contact us today at 512-400-4247 for a free 10-minute consultation or to schedule an appointment.