Back to School with COVID: Helping Your Kids Cope with the Uncertainties

For many children, going back to school means leaving the safe haven they’ve had from COVID. Our kids grew used to being at home during the pandemic. Your perspective on safety and interaction has been their baseline. Heading back to school is a significant change for children of all age groups. Helping them navigate their anxiety is a priority for parents across the country.

First, it’s important to remember your child’s developmental stage when talking with them about COVID. They might have a lot of questions. Fortunately, they have you to see them through. 

How do you start? Try the following strategies:

Keep Discussion Age-appropriate but Honest

It’s important to be honest with our kids about the state of the COVID pandemic. Just as important is keeping the conversation age-appropriate. Teens and preteens will have a greater understanding of the global significance of COVID-19 while an elementary or preschooler will need a more localized explanation.

Regardless of age, you can offer your child opportunities to have some control over their always-changing situation. Let them choose the masks or keep a travel-sized container of hand sanitizer in their backpack. 

Let Your Kids Lead the Conversation

Find out what your kids already know about the pandemic. Start where they are while you’re talking things through. As you discuss the situation and your safety plans, let them ask questions along the way instead of asking them to wait until you’ve explained everything. Guiding the conversation this way helps them process smaller bits of information at a time and can keep the conversation from feeling overwhelming. If they ask a question and you’re unsure of the answer, research it together.

Talk About Your Plan to Keep Everyone Safe

Talking about your safety plan with your child reduces their anxiety surrounding all kinds of situations. It’s why schools conduct safety drills and why we talk with our kids about how to get out of the house in case of a fire. When we have a plan and talk about it before we need to use it, we feel safer knowing what we need to do. Show them where you keep the masks so they can always grab one before going to school. Tell them about how you’re washing your hands, how they should wash theirs too, and how you’re staying safe at work. 

Don’t Forget the Back-to-School Basics Too

Yes, Covid is weighing heavily on all of our minds this school year, but kids still have all the routine back-to-school concerns too. Connecting with friends, unfamiliar teachers, and a new school bus route are all things that can worry your child. Taking time to set up routines and develop a team atmosphere as you worked to a new normal is key.

Try These Anxiety Coping Mechanisms for Kids

The first step in helping our kids cope with anxiety is to set a good example. They learn from how we deal with our stress and are likely to mirror our behavior. Encourage older children to think about what coping strategies have helped them in the past.

Ask what they’re doing to feel safer. This way, you’re inviting them to talk it out with you instead of giving suggestions. For younger children, practice these coping mechanisms alongside them. By modeling the behavior, you help them feel less self-conscious and show them it’s okay, grown-ups do this stuff too. Suggest and try these strategies with your kids:

  • Breathing exercises and counting breaths: For younger children, put a toy on their belly and ask them to breathe to make the toy move up and down.
  • Exercise: Take a walk outside, practice some stretches together, or play a favorite sport.
  • Talk it through: Sometimes kids need to process verbally, just like adults. Particularly with older children, ready yourself to listen without being reactive. Validate how they’re feeling with phrases like, “Wow, that sounds really frustrating. What are you doing to help with that?”
  • Emotional awareness: For young children, identifying emotions can be hard. They may not have the vocabulary or feel too upset to talk. Ask them where they feel it in their body and help them name the feeling. With older kids, focus on listening and ask open-ended questions.

Finally, check in with your child regularly as they manage the return to school this year. Let them know that, whatever happens, you’re available any time. For more ideas to encourage and empower your child, read more about anxiety treatment and reach out soon for a free consultation.

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