Coping With Back-to-School Anxiety During COVID-19
Tips for Managing Your Anxiety and the Anxiety of Your Child
There’s no arguing that the last year and a half has been challenging, and COVID-19 has changed the landscape of what many of us consider to be “normal.” A year of remote learning has taken an emotional, mental, and developmental toll. During the height of the pandemic, schools around the country and the world switched to virtual learning almost overnight. Many children have fallen behind, missed milestones, and have suffered from a lack of peer interactions crucial to the development of social skills. However, with three approved vaccinations in the U.S., schools are opening for in-person learning, and many parents, students, and teachers are bracing for a return to the classroom. With the rollout of vaccinations and declining rates of COVID-19, most schools across the country are open for in-person learning with safety provisions such as social distancing and masking. Although a return to classroom learning promises a more stable, interactive learning environment, the transition also presents new mental health challenges, including increased stress and anxiety levels.
Know the facts and what to expectKnowledge is power. Understanding your school’s safety protocols to keep your children safe in the classroom will help ease your anxiety. Start by becoming informed about the real benefits and risks of returning to in-person school during the ongoing pandemic. Consult reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about how the virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted and requirements for schools to reopen safely. For example, currently, the CDC recommends the following:
- Universal indoor masking by all students (age two and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
- Schools should maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk.
- When social distancing of at least 3 feet is impossible, it’s essential to layer multiple prevention strategies, such as screening testing.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.
Observe your child’s behaviorWhether you anticipate your child will thrive in the classroom or you’re worried about a tough transition, you must pay attention to their behaviors. While many children will be delighted to meet their teachers and peers, other children who’ve adjusted to the isolation of virtual learning may feel overwhelmed in a new social environment. If your child is anxious, it’s important they feel comfortable communicating how they are feeling. When left unmanaged, anxiety can lead to depression. Signs of depression can include:
- Prevailing feelings of sadness or irritability
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, helplessness, or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in things that once brought pleasure, such as sports or music lessons
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Changes in eating habits
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Treatment-resistant physical symptoms including chronic pain, headaches, or digestive problems