Back to School Stress

The final days of summer herald a return to school, and this year it means a physical return to the classroom. Back to School Stress

Many parents are faced with varying levels of stress as they ease their children back into a routine. Licensed Clinical Psychologist Alexandra Gazis shares her advice on how this can be approached.

After such a long break, children of all ages are returning to the classroom. How can parents prepare them and address any anxiety about Covid -19 exposure and distancing measures?

Routine is the magic word! The more you establish a smooth routine, the easier children will take the return back to school. The first step is to set a sleep time for school days.

This should be done at least a week before school actually starts, where children go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Set a good breakfast routine as well; get your child’s stomachs used to eating earlier, and with the correct foods.

Make sure that you have all their school requirements organized and ready well in advance, with clothes and personal items well-labeled. If this is left to the last minute, children will pick up on any sense of stress and may develop anxiety and a negative perception of attending school again.

It is important to call the school or nursery to know about the schedules and subjects. Let your child know who the teachers will be and which of their friends and classmates will be joining them in class again. Back to School Stress

For little ones starting nursery for the first time, find out the teacher’s name and make a point of including her name in conversations in the days leading up to school to create a feeling of familiarity.

Check all of the school’s Covid 19 rules and any new procedures and relay this clearly to your child. Have a clear idea of what measures are being taken regarding distancing and other procedures. If possible, try to take pictures of any signage on the school premises indicating actions to be taken or avoided.

Show these to your child and explain to them what they mean i.e. an X sign on a chair that indicates they should not sit in that space because of the distance they should keep. These visual aids will make it easier to transition to the new guidelines when they go back to the classroom.

Let your child become familiar with wearing a mask, address any possible scenarios that could arise through abiding to new disciplines and help your child understand the possible courses of action they can safely follow. Back to School Stress

Why might a child go through separation anxiety?

After a period of separation from their friends and normal lifestyle, children have adjusted to much closer ties with their immediate family and caregivers. Any change in routine could lead to separation anxiety, with displays of regressive behavior not only in the 6 months to three-and-a-half-years age group but also in even older children, especially when they get to know that they are going back to the classroom.

Because children find it difficult to express their emotions clearly, they may become clingier, complaining of headaches or fixating on minor changes in their lifestyle. They may become prone to stomach aches or develop disturbing food habits, such as craving sugar. There could be regressive behavior like bed-wetting, along with the throwing of tantrums and uncontrolled emotional outbursts.

Children may be confronted by a wide range of attitudes and opinions on Covid-19 from their fellow classmates. How can they be reassured and feel secure in what they have been told by their parents and other informed adults?

It is important to discuss the facts with children before they become influenced by social media or idle chatter. There is an excellent book called A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus by Rebecca Growe that clearly explains in easy-to-follow language what the virus is, and what it can do. Back to School Stress

Let this be a reference point to return to if they feel confused by varying opinions, establishing that people may see things differently, but this is what you believe is correct.

After studying from home, what are your tips for re-establishing a routine that will get children back on track with academic work and school life?

It is a good idea to start a gradual reading routine and having an hour or two of general academic activity each day in the period before going back to school. Well before they actually go to nursery or back to school, engage your children in drawing activities that reflect what they might experience at school.

Let them express their anxieties, their thoughts and their emotions through art, or activity books. You may even like to create small plays to enact situations that you anticipate them encountering. By involving children in these activities well ahead of the return to the classroom you are taking a lot of their insecurities away.

Again, it is most helpful to establish routines and firm timetables in the day. A set time to be dropped off at school and a set time to be collected. Your child should know which adult is the person to reach out to in the case of any emergency, in line with the school communication policy.

Always make a point of checking on their mood and feelings upon returning from school. This could be on the drive home, or once they are back home. Check on their emotional state, and listen to any fears they might have about the pandemic.

Most children see their homes as a safe zone and like to open up and share their day’s thoughts, concerns and experiences. Be patient, and allow them to share the details, without showing any signs of boredom. Affirm their positive actions during the day, and even reward them in small ways.

If children challenge the need to follow the regulations in place, how much information should they be given as regards to the changed environment we have to cope with? The risks, the possible outcomes and what their role is as a part of the community?

If children are reluctant to accept the constraints in place, take time to sit with them. Use a book or visual aids to explain the virus to them, and make it clear that it is everyone’s responsibility to follow the rules, to protect themselves and others around them.

Let them become familiar with the distances they should maintain in various situations. Try to bring some fun into it. Shop together for cute masks, choose liquid sanitizers together and create a unique personalized sanitizer bag. Build a sense of excitement to help your child feel involved. Bac k to School Stress

What activities would you recommend as a good way of interacting with friends and classmates without compromising anyone’s health and safety?

Usually schools have very strict protocols to ensure that nobody’s health or safety is compromised. Children should be equipped with their own bag of masks and sanitizer. You can enquire of the school as to the types of activities they have.

Children need to understand social distancing rules, which games are no longer suitable, and whether physical contact is permitted. There are zillions of online games that they can have a lot of fun playing if the school is prohibiting playground time.

How can parents cope with the added stress without it impacting the children?

It is vital that you ensure your own wellbeing and safety in order to support and protect your love ones.

  • As when flying, make sure that your mask is securely in place before reaching out to help others.
  • Don’t feel guilt or a sense of not doing your best.
  • Talk to your child, and listen carefully to what he or she has to say. This is crucial during this period.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and avoid transmitting a feeling of fear to your child.
  • Be consistent in your words and your actions, children are quick to spot any disparity.

Children do as they see, so by projecting confidence, you are helping your child feel capable and able to face new circumstances.

If you, as a parent, really feel that things are overwhelming, it is advisable to seek help from professionals. Reach out to your local therapist, or seek help and support through one of the many virtual sites online. Bac k to School Stress

Remember that most parents are experiencing the same type of anxiety and are questioning if they are handling things as well as possible. You are not alone, and we will all get through this together.

Your ‘Back-to-School’ Health Checklist