Dealing with Back to School COVID-19 Anxiety
Updated: Aug 13
Virtual learning, staggered starts, and six feet apart, these are all phases that no one could have predicted would be a part of the 2020-2021 school year. What happened to the most stressful part of the school year being standardized testing? The new normal of the world has many families concerned, anxious, confused, and even angry about what is the best way to prepare kids and teens for a full school year in the now COVID-19 world. Most importantly, how do families prepare for something that has never been done before?
Although there isn’t a clear cut answer to when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, there are answers to how we can process and cope with stress dealing with the unknown. We want to focus on what behaviors we can control and how to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings in a positive way. It’s not about the situation itself; it’s about how we choose to react to the situation that mostly affects our lives. Read ahead for tips on how to deal with COVID-19 stress for kids, teens, and parents.
Tips For Kids
Prepare Little Kids for School Changes. This school year is going to be a big change, especially for elementary aged kids. There may be no touching policies, shorter school days, or times when your little one may have to wait longer to switch lessons or activities. Patience is key during a Pandemic. At home practice playing games like Simon Says or Red Light Green Light to help children with their listening and waiting skills. Students will most likely have to wear a face mask to go back to school, prep them by spending time wearing masks as a family inside the house. Creating a structured routine at home before returning to school will help your child get back into the groove of things without even entering the classroom. Write down a family schedule, go over it with your child, and be sure to follow through with it on the weekdays. Be sure to include family time and time for play in your family schedule.
Create A Calm Down Corner. Coping with stress is hard often as an adult, children may need additional time to figure out how to deal with their big emotions. A calm down corner is a safe place at home where a child can just relax. Calm down corners provide a sensory experience that includes visual aspects, like books or art supplies, touch elements, like soft blankets, play dough, or stress balls, and perhaps a device that plays soothing music. This safe space can provide an outlet for after school frustrations.
Teach Your Kids About Emotions Labeling. When we give a name to an emotional sensation, we give ourselves power to cope with it. Dan Siegel’s ‘Name it to Tame It’ saying is an easy way to teach kids that by stating how they are feeling, they are activating a different part of their brain, the logical side, that helps counterbalance with the emotional side. Parents can help children process emotions simply by asking, “How are you feeling right now?”, or “If I had to guess, I think you’re feeling ____, is that right?”, or even, “I’m here for you right now, let’s figure out how you’re feeling.” Helping your child process their emotions and speaking about them out-loud will make them feel heard, while also teaching them emotional awareness.
Deal With Worries Head On. Sometimes, it’s hard for a growing mind to hold on to a lot of worries. As a parent, it is your job to help comfort your child’s worries, especially when it is something they can not control like COVID-19. One way to do this to figure out what is causing your child’s anxiety and nervousness towards going back to school. Instead of trying to talk the worries out, make it into a fun family project. Get together different colors of paper, writing/drawing utensils, scissors, and a canister with a lid on it. Have your child draw or write out different worries on different pieces of paper, about COVID-19, returning to school, or just in general. After all the worries are on the pieces of paper, place them in the canister and put the lid on tight, the canister will be kept in the adult’s bedroom. Tell your child, “These worries are mine to hold, they can not hurt you.” In this way, the adult guards the worry jar and lets their child know that they are here to help protect them from the worries.
Tips For Teens
Acknowledge What Is Still The Same. School schedules, sports games, and where we can sit in the classroom has all changed. By focusing only on the differences at school, we are creating an overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity. Step back from the unfamiliarity, and see what you can list as being the same as last year. Maybe you can still say "hey" to your favorite teachers in the hallways, choose what outfit you wear everyday, or talk to your friends between classes. Focusing on what is familiar and what is the same can ground us, and make the environment seem more comfortable.
Develop Some Social Media Free Self-Care. With Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat constantly giving us updates on what our people are doing during COVID-19, it’s difficult to turn away. Social media, like most fun things, is good in moderation; it’s a good way to connect with friends and express ourselves. However, only getting our happiness from social media can be very isolating at times, especially if you are learning from home. Try to actively engage your mind in other self-care ways, such as reading a book, trying to make something new in the kitchen, watch a movie with your family, or simply play with your pets. Technically, Facetiming or calling a friend isn’t using social media, but try to fill your schedule with other activities as well. Missing social media? Try to sign up for a virtual club through your school or an online community (with a parent’s permission of course). You will still get your online fix, but also be able to actively participate in a group or activity, not just watching or scrolling through other people’s stories.
Reflect Your Emotions In A Creative Way. Making a music playlist about how you feel, doodling, and even journaling, helps make us aware of our emotions and how they may be helping us, or distracting us. Noting emotions can be a very personal experience that can help us learn more about ourselves if we process them. Choose different colored pencils representing your different emotions and create a picture of how you feel about school changes. Write down your worries caused by COVID-19, and include how you would like to feel instead. Make a 2020 playlist, one that expresses the ups and downs of the year, be sure to include a few feel good tunes as well, representing you trying your best during this time.
Take Time To Verbally Vent. Wait a minute, am I actually allowed to complain about this school nonsense? Yes, you are allowed to have your opinions, as long as your opinions don’t hurt others. This is a very stressful time to be going back to school, and it’s hard to process it alone. Ask a parent, another trusted adult, or even an older sibling if they have time to listen to you process your thoughts and emotions regarding school. Pro tip: set a ‘vent timer’ for about three minutes. We want to get our thoughts and feelings out of our brain, but not to give them too much power. COIVD-19 sucks and you have the right to talk about that suck for three minutes. After venting, you and your listening pal can process what is going on under all that stress by using an emotion wheel. You can even make it a game, have your listening partner try to guess what emotions you were feeling as you spoke, then give them the correct answers.
Tips For Parents
Keep Your Stress In Check. The last thing you want to do as a parent is put more school stress on you children. If your child or teen are not expressing stress regarding COVID-19, let them know you are here for them if they want to talk. This is not the time to plant seeds of worry if they are not already there. Don’t pressure kids into getting perfect grades during this time, focus more on feelings of safety and joy. Come up with your own self care. If children and teens see the adults in their life handling stress, they are likely to engage in their coping skills as well. Your feelings need to be validated as well, reach out to a parenting support group, a trusted group of friends, or a family member who always has your back.
Embrace The New Back To School Shopping. Masks are going to be a part of the new back to school normal. Let your children purchase masks that match their personalities or back to school wardrobe. If you're crafty, make decorating masks a family activity. The more we enjoy what we are wearing, the less awkward we will feel in public situations. Look for school supplies that can be easily sanitized, such as a plastic pencil pouch vs a cloth one. Above all, don't forget the hand sanitizer. Backpack clips may be helpful for all children to remember which sanitizer bottle belongs to them.
Say to Yourself “I Am Not Alone”. There is no clear guidebook of how to be a parent during a Pandemic and there are many difficult decisions to make regarding childcare, schooling, and out of the house family activities. Remind yourself that you are doing the best for your children and thousands of other parents are going through the same stressful situations. You are not alone.
Know The Facts About Your Child’s School and District. Know the protocols your child's school will have regarding possible closures, sanitary stations, mask wearing, and online learning. The more you know, and the more you share with your children, the easier the transition will be for your family. Learn the facts and trust that the school staff is trying their best to protect your children. In some cases, like sitting six feet apart and mask wearing, practice these at home so your child becomes a COVID-19 protocol expert.
For additional resources on how to cope with COVID-19 parenting anxiety, click here.
Chambers, Y. (2019). 80+ Self-Care Activities for Teens. Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://www.kiddiematters.com/80-self-care-activities-teens/
Chambers, Y. (2017, December 14). How To Create A Calm Down Area At Home. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.kiddiematters.com/create-calm-area-home/
Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education. (2015, February 26). Strong Emotions: Name it to Tame it! Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://heartmindonline.org/resources/strong-emotions-name-it-to-tame-it
Ellingsen, K. (2020). Parent and Child Support During COVID-19. Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://parentsupportduringcovid19.com/