14 ways you can help soothe your child’s anxieties about this school year

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By Lynn Garst, Pediatric Disaster Coordinator, CDPHE | September 17, 2020

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The beginning of a new school year, even during normal times, can bring anticipation, excitement, and anxiety for you and your child. This school year promises to intensify all of these feelings, especially the anxiety. As a parent, it is OK to be concerned about how your child will adjust to all the ways that will make this school year so different.

Parents will naturally want to protect their children from as much stress, anxiety, and fear as possible. However, children can become even more anxious when they are kept in the dark. Just like you, children need to know what is going on. Here are some ways you can check-in with your child throughout the school year:

  1. Prior to starting this conversation, assess your own concerns and anxieties and be prepared to share those with your child.

  2. Let them know what to expect with the start of school and the rest of the year.

  3. Talk about what you and the school are doing to keep everyone safe.

  4. Ask what questions they have. It is OK for you not to know the answer. This is a great opportunity to work together to find out.

  5. Ask your child what concerns they have.

  6. Acknowledge their fears and concerns. Let them know that these feelings are OK and many kids are feeling that way right now.

  7. Assure them that you will get through this together. 

  8. Ask what would help them feel better. 

It is also very common and normal for you to feel overwhelmed and helpless with so much outside of your control. Your child probably feels the same way. If your child is returning to the school building part-time or full-time, let them know that there is a lot that they can do to keep themselves safe. The following actions can help alleviate your child’s anxiety and fear:

  1. Try to instill a sense that they “can do” things to protect themselves. While we can’t go back to normal right now, you and your child can work together to make things better.

  2. Giving your child choices where choices are possible. Choices can also help overcome this sense of helplessness. Limit the choices to just two options for younger children and up to three options for older children.

  3. Mask wearing can be difficult and stressful for many children. Go over the right way to wear a mask – covering both the mouth and the nose. If possible, let your child choose from several types of masks to find the one that fits most comfortably. Here is a great resource for helping your child wear a mask. 

  4. Work together to develop a daily schedule and routine for both school and non-school times. Stick to it as much as possible. Knowing what comes next can be very comforting for children of all ages.

  5. If you have the resources, create a workspace that is specifically dedicated to schoolwork. It is just as important for your child to leave school behind as it is for you to leave work behind at the end of the day. This is much more difficult when school and home are in the same place. Creating a special workspace can help separate school from the rest of the day. If you cannot create a separate workspace, store schoolwork in a separate location at the end of each school day.

  6. If school will be online for at least part of the school week, have your child design their workspace. Help them keep it comfortable and limit distractions. Allow them to include a comfort item such as a favorite stuffed animal for younger children. 

Acknowledging and talking about fears and concerns and taking practical steps to make things better can go a long way in addressing the anxiety of returning to school during this age of COVID.