Tips for parents to manage back-to-school anxiety amid a pandemic
While this upcoming school year will look completely different due to the coronavirus pandemic, many kids may still experience some anxiety over the new virtual school environment.
Child anxiety expert at FIU’s Center for Children and Families, Jeremy Pettit, shares some tips for parents whose children may be exhibiting signs of back-to-school anxiety.
- Make efforts to attend virtual orientations and open houses. Most people are suffering from Zoom-fatigue, but attending these orientations and open houses provides information that reduces children’s anxieties and also provides a sense of normalcy in these unusual times.
- Establish a routine and stick to it. Everything about this school year will be different and having a predictable routine can be calming for children and parents.
- Discuss the positive aspects of going back to school, such as virtually with connecting friends again.
- Provide reassurance in response to children’s concerns (e.g., Will my teacher be nice? Will the homework be too hard?) but not excessive reassurance – once or twice is enough.
- Watch for virtual avoidance. When children feel anxious, they may turn off their cameras, hide their faces or be reluctant to speak using Zoom. If at all possible, do not allow children to avoid — avoidance tends to make anxiety worse in the long run.
- Find ways for your child to socialize. Many extracurricular activities are on hold because of the pandemic. Try to find alternative ways for kids to stay active, interact with peers, and have fun! You can help your child setup virtual game nights with friends or virtual exercise classes.
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule. When children are at home all the time, it is easy for sleep schedules to become irregular. Maintaining a regular, healthy sleep schedule will promote emotional well-being, academic performance and overall family functioning.
- Show empathy. Parents can discuss with their kids their own experiences with anxiety and what they have found to be helpful. Parents also can help children identify their own strategies for coping with anxiety.
- Praise children when they face their fears and make efforts to cope with anxiety.
In most cases, the anxiety will fade away over the first few days of school. If the anxiety begins to interfere with daily functioning including missing virtual classes, poor performance in class and frequent arguments within the family, it may be time to seek help.
Pettit is also chair of the FIU Department of Psychology and director of the Child Anxiety and Phobia Program (CAPP) at FIU’s Center for Children and Families.CAPP provides comprehensive diagnostic assessments and state-of-the-art treatments for children and adolescents (6-17 years old) who are experiencing excessive fear and problems related to anxiety. Services – in English and Spanish – are available and also available for children and adolescents who are experiencing depression.