In addition to the back-to-school jitters many experience at the end of summer, this year brings about new and different feelings thanks to the unexpected pandemic better referred to as COVID-19. With the thought of school approaching the start date, or having already begun, many will experience an increase in their anxiety and stress associated with what will happen moving forward. Throughout this piece my aim is to better aid caregivers in finding coping mechanisms or tips as far as how to help their child(ren) assimilate to these new and overwhelming aspects in education.
To best help kids and teens prepare for their inevitable return to the classroom, it is important to start by understanding not only their feelings about the transition, but also that of the caregivers. This adjustment period can be difficult, but that is not to say that there is not steps one can take to help in an easier transition. By implementing the three A’s to coping, not only will kids and teens be better prepared for when the time comes for class to begin, but so will their caregivers.
The first A stands for Acceptance. Acceptance in this instance is not for the children, but rather the adults that associate with them. Not only do caregivers, but society as a whole must come together and accept that there is no one “right” answer. The decision as to whether or not your child(ren) will attend school in person or through the computer is not an easy one to make and as a collective we must accept that. It is important to also accept that you may feel conflicted about the decision that will need to be made, but it does not mean it is “right” or “wrong,” merely what you feel is best for your child. When deciding, a tip to go by is to focus on the risks and benefits associated with both methods. Once you have been able to weigh the pros and cons of each side, it is then that the information can be used to make a rational choice as far as what to do education wise. In the end, it is essential that before making any difficult choice, caregivers must work towards accepting the difficult thoughts and feelings brought on by this dilemma instead of fighting against them.
Next comes Acknowledgement. Along with having no one “right” answer, caregivers need to take the time to acknowledge that if they send their child(ren) back to school, they will not be able to control what happens from there. This does not mean that those who chose to go this route are knowingly putting their children at more risk, it is only meaning that one must accept that it is impossible to predict what will happen. It is perfectly “normal” to experience feelings of discomfort and uncertainty, but rather than dwell in that mind-frame it is essential that caregivers accept these feelings and do what they can to stay focused on the positives that come along with the return to school. For the caregiver to be able to cope with everything going on around them, it is recommended to try and focus on positive areas in life rather than the negativity that comes along with it. By creating predictions of what will not work during this era of pandemic unrest may create an increase in your own anxiety, ultimately leading to the increase in your child(ren)’s as well. Please note that you are not alone in your feelings and that being worried or uncomfortable is a founded response to all the unknown.
The last A is Assimilation. Once caregivers can understand their own concerns about the return to school this fall, they will then be able to start understand their child(ren)’s. The following suggestions are ways that caregivers can support their kids and teens with the transition into the school year. Caregivers may be able to help kids and teens by expressing their understanding and willingness to explore their brains’ stress reaction when feelings of confusion, frustration, upset, or frightened occur. By assimilating to the child(ren)’s feelings it shows them that they are not being blamed for how they feel, thus leading to a decrease in overall stress levels. Though many may feel put off by the next tip, having an open conversation with kids and teens about feelings toward their return to school can be greatly beneficial. These conversations are a “good” way to help remind kids and teens (possibly the caregiver too) about positives that arise from school starting back up such as seeing their friends and being able to meet their new teachers. Lastly, validate the feelings that kids, and teens bring forth. Make sure that they are aware that by them feeling anxious, overwhelmed, worried, conflicted, nervous, etc. is “normal.” The more that the kids and teens feel as though there is a connection between them and the caregivers, as well as their community, the less anxious they will be. It has been shown that by having younger individuals put their concerns into words, it can help show them that you as the caregiver take what they are saying seriously as well as bring a sense of calm to the situation. It is important to keep conversation open between you and your child(ren) and stay aware of their mental health. Try to take notice of their anxiety level (I.e. sleep difficulty and concentrating) and depression. It is important to address these matters as soon as possible by getting your child(ren) involved in the conversation and if needed seek counseling. Most importantly, make sure your child(ren) is aware that you are open and willing to listen to them if they want to share their feelings about school, especially any concerns or stressful topics so that you can help them work through the problem and create a solution together.
An important aspect to remember as you take the time to think about these tips, is that every family is unique, and trying to navigate their own unique blend of constraints and considerations. Amid this pandemic, the start of the new school year is nothing like anyone has ever experienced before. That said, it could be a mess at the beginning, it has the possibility of being hard, and all of us – kids, caregivers, educators, professionals, therapists – may need to take this time to reach out for help (especially mental health assistance). By doing so, it will also model to our child(ren) that they can do the same without feeling alone. For those who do not already have a therapist, Telemental health care could be the solution you were looking for.
Lukin, K. (2020, September 02). Back to school after the shutdown: Helping kids and parents. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mancave/202009/back-school-after-the-shutdown-helping-kids-and-parents.
Ungar, M. (2020, August 23). Getting children back to school during COVID-19. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/nurturingresilience/202008/getting-children-back-school-during-covid-19.
Willis, J. (2020, March 29). Coping with your kids’ transition to home and online learning. Psychology today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/radicalteaching/202003/coping-your-kids-transition-home-and-online-learning.