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Parents: Tips for Back-to-School Anxiety

August 17, 2021

By Dr. Pamela Shuman Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist Associate Medical Director for Ambulatory Programs Natchaug Hospital
Back-to-school jitters are common for schoolchildren of all ages. The anxiety of making new friends, meeting new teachers and adjusting to a new routine is to be expected at the beginning of a school year. Adding the threat of a global pandemic on top of those worries can be a lot to deal with for both kids and parents. [caption id="attachment_35349" align="alignleft" width="200"]Dr. Pamela Shuman Dr. Pamela Shuman[/caption] For many students, this fall will mark the first time for full in-person learning since early 2020. The recent surge of the Delta variant has many parents on edge about sending children back to school, especially those too young to be vaccinated. Here are some of the most common questions I have received from families regarding back-to-school anxiety:

How do I address my child’s concerns about COVID-19?

For younger children, it is important to reassure them that you can keep them safe. Explain that wearing their mask will help to protect them from getting sick. Tell them that many of the adults in the school, such as their teachers, are vaccinated and that will help them stay healthy. For older children, it is important to address any specific concerns about the Delta variant. You might consider reading an article together that describes the best ways to protect themselves from COVID-19, including the Delta variant. If they are frightened about the recent increase in pediatric hospitalizations, put it in perspective by explaining that the risk of serious illness for kids is still very low for those without other serious medical conditions. Help them compare the risk to other risks we take in everyday life.

How do I help my child transition from online or hybrid to full in-person learning?

Children have been affected in different ways by online and hybrid learning. For children who had pre-existing social anxiety or school phobia, they may have felt relief at the absence of in-person learning and may dread having to go back. For these children, it is important to role-play the process of returning to school and practice their anxiety coping skills. Make sure to discuss with the school ahead of time the supports that will be in place and go over with your child how to access those supports. Other children have struggled with attention and motivation during distance learning. For these children, the return to the structure of school may be a welcome relief. If your child struggled with distance learning, explain to them that their difficulties were due to the unique learning situation and remind them how they did with in-person learning in the past.

How do I know if my child is having difficulty adjusting?

Even with lots of preparation, some children will struggle with the back-to-school transition. If you notice a change in behavior, withdrawal from activities, family and friends or difficulty concentrating, make sure to check in early to find out what is bothering them. If reassurance and support are still not helping, reach out for help from the school and your primary care provider. If you feel that your child needs to be assessed by a behavioral health professional, Natchaug Hospital can help. Natchaug Hospital has a range of supports available for students, including partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and substance abuse treatment programs. Remember that while this transition may be stressful for you as well, children look to their parents’ reactions to stressful situations. Try to model a calm approach to stress and make time for your own health and wellness. Natchaug Hospital offers behavioral health and addiction treatment for children, adolescents and adults through a network of community-based programs in Danielson, Dayville, Enfield, Groton, Mansfield, Norwich, Old Saybrook, Vernon and Willimantic. For more information, please click here or call 860.456.1311.