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Reducing back-to-school separation anxiety, stress during the pandemic

Reducing back-to-school separation anxiety, stress during the pandemic

August 20, 2020 at 9:04am

As schools across the country begin to reopen for in-person instruction, children may experience anxiety heightened by COVID-19. An FIU child psychologist and her colleague recently published a study with tips to help parents manage their child’s anxiety and set them up for success. 

“Parents and teachers are anxious about reopening our schools in particular in COVID-19 hotspots. For children, a prolonged period of home confinement will likely intensify separation anxiety,” FIU Professor Martha Pelaez said. “Children will be dropped off at school now under more restrictive settings due to safety guidelines that must be followed. At the moment of separation, children may mirror the parents and teachers' stress.”   

Lead author and FIU Professor Martha Pelaez and child psychologist Gary Novak from California State University, Stanislaus suggest parents:

Before the first day of school

  • Learn the school’s COVID-19 distancing and safety rules and review them with their children.
  • Develop a plan to ease children’s return and engagement. Involve the teacher’s rules and plans in your own planning.
  • Help children understand what is happening and provide reassurance.
  • Observe carefully what children say and how they feel and act about returning to school, including any worries.
  • Practice being calm around their children and encourage children to be calm as well.

On the first day of school

  • Create a less stressful environment. Before your departure, ensure that your child is safe, relaxed, and positively engaged in an activity.
  • Announce your departure for school without making a fuss.
  • Explain to children what is occurring and when to expect you back.
  • Depart without vacillating.
  • Don’t return if children begin to protest.
  • Behave consistently, so children learn this will be the norm.
  • Decrease stress by maintaining routines.
These recommendations were published in the journal Behavioral Analysis in Practice.