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Education|10 March 2022

7 ways to help your kids deal with Back to School anxiety

Written by Pragya Lodha
The Mumbai Program Director & Clinical Psychologist at The MINDS Foundation. Honorary Associate Editor for the Indian Journal of Mental Health with over 100 National and International publications

After years of online school, many children are struggling with the reality of returning to school. A recent report showed that there has been a 30% rise in counselling appointments due to the reopening of schools, with worried parents and students seeking support. 

Is your child seeking reassurance from you, avoiding school-related tasks or complaining about unexplainable physical pain?

Read about the 5 signs that your child is experiencing higher than usual anxiety

Our experts share 7 ways to help your child adjust to in-person school :

  1. Stay connected. Many children are worried about being away from their family, so find ways to show them you are always with them. For example, put an encouraging note in their backpack, draw a heart on their hand to remind them you love them, or give them an item that reminds them of you. This way, if they are anxious at school, they can remember they are safe and loved. 
  1. Focus on the positives. Ask your child to make a list of all of the things they are excited about. Is there a particular teacher they love or a sport they are excited to play again? Go through this list with them. Take every opportunity to remind your child that being with friends, playing during recess, going on school trips, and doing activities are all part of school too. 
  1. Identify specific fears. Every child is concerned about different parts of the school experience. Sit down with your child and talk to them openly to identify what they are worried about. This way, you can try to address the issue beforehand. For example, if your child is worried about meeting their peers in school, you and other parents might arrange a playdate before school starts. 
  1. Encourage socialization. Studies show that the biggest fear most children have is being around their peers again. To address this, try taking your child to meet some of their school friends before school begins. This will be an opportunity for them to feel more comfortable and learn how to socialize without getting too physically close to others, by playing cricket or cycling.
  1. Maintain a routine. Going back to school is a big change for our children, so it is best to keep other parts of their life consistent. Maintaining fixed routines when at home will help make them feel stable and secure. This could mean doing hygiene routines together in the morning, having fixed times for dinner and bedtime, or carving out some time everyday to talk openly with your child.
  1. Follow safety guidelines. As parents, we want our children to stay healthy. This means teaching your child the importance of washing their hands or using hand sanitiser regularly, wearing a mask when they are supposed to, and practicing safe distancing where possible. As a parent, make sure your child is vaccinated and allow them to stay home if they are sick. 
  • Be supportive of them academically. For many children, studying and taking exams in a classroom setting will be difficult or anxiety-inducing initially, which means some may underperform. Make sure your child knows that you are proud of them regardless, ask their teachers what you can do to support them at home, and give them time to adjust to the new normal.

References:

  • Kamran, A., & Naeim, M. (2021). Managing Back to School Anxiety During a COVID-19 Outbreak. Journal Of Nervous & Mental Disease209(4), 244-245. doi: 10.1097/nmd.0000000000001313
  • Lopes-Júnior, L., Siqueira, P., & Maciel, E. (2021). School reopening and risks accelerating the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis protocol. PLOS ONE16(11), e0260189. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0260189
  • Schwartz, K., Exner-Cortens, D., McMorris, C., Makarenko, E., Arnold, P., & Van Bavel, M. et al. (2021). COVID-19 and Student Well-Being: Stress and Mental Health during Return-to-School. Canadian Journal Of School Psychology36(2), 166-185. doi: 10.1177/08295735211001653
  • Waters, L., Allen, K., & Arslan, G. (2021). Stress-Related Growth in Adolescents Returning to School After COVID-19 School Closure. Frontiers In Psychology12. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.643443Yang, C., Chen, A., & Chen, Y. (2021). College students’ stress and health in the COVID-19 pandemic: The role of academic workload, separation from school, and fears of contagion. PLOS ONE16(2), e0246676. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0246676

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.