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 expect

Knowledge 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.
Be prepared for increased caution over kids’ health, especially younger students. Children with a runny nose, cough, and fever, despite the cause, may be required to stay home until they’re well. When a peer tests positive for the virus, schools may need to shut down for a period in the hopes of avoiding an outbreak. 

Observe your child’s behavior

Whether 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

Keep the lines of communication open

Regardless of your reaction or your child’s reaction to in-person learning, be sure to keep the lines of communication open. Check in with your children and their teachers. Ask them how they are doing and let them know how you are feeling as well. It’s natural to be excited and apprehensive about change. And it’s normal to have some worry about getting sick and how that may impact the school year.  If your children express fear or anxiety, validate their feelings. Your support and love can help them continue to be honest and comfortable sharing their feelings. At the same time, do your best to ensure that your kids follow the public health guidelines, including wearing masks the right way, social distancing, and washing their hands frequently.

Make the right decision for your family

Some children may not be ready for in-person learning, and others who live with at-risk family members may be worried about contracting the virus at school and infecting parents and grandparents. For families who are not sure they’re ready, weigh the benefits and risks to determine if virtual learning is still the best option for them.  On the other hand, the return to school may be crucially important for parents who rely on school services such as free lunches, speech, tutoring, occupational therapy, and counselors. Ultimately, you need to do what is best for your family and your children.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Kids are resilient, but they also have strong emotions without the maturity to process them in a healthy manner. If you or your child are grappling with anxiety about returning to school during the ongoing pandemic, you are not alone. It’s perfectly natural to feel overwhelmed as you transition back to classroom learning. A mental health professional can provide a safe space to discuss your anxiety and fears, helping you find the tools and solutions needed to manage your stress positively. Whether you or your child needs help managing anxiety, our team of mental professionals can help. At Cypress, our family of psychotherapists leverages their experience, training, and compassion to provide a wide range of treatment solutions to help treat the symptoms causing distress.  Contact a member of our team to learn more about our on-site clinical and teletherapy options for your mental health.