Author: Jonathan M.; Domestic Violence Counselor
Back to school season 2020 looms only weeks away and represents for many families their most uncertain schooling experience to date. Sitting with that uncertainty can allow sprouts of stress and anxiety to pop up in our kids. Though we’re equally unsure of what school will look like this fall, Families First would like to offer some ideas and strategies to help your children cope with the stress of going back to school during a global pandemic.
Like adults, kids are are creatures of habit and their routines have likely turned upside down over the past few months in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of this, they might be experiencing fear, anxiety, and confusion about what’s coming next. Children need routine, so consider going back to school as a chance to build a new routine that makes sense for your family’s situation. Approach this topic by accepting that things will look different and figure out what works best for your family. Then, clearly communicate this new routine with your child. Explain what they can expect their days to look like and let them know unexpected things might happen and that it is your responsibility as the parent to deal with them. Focus on the things you can control, such as morning and homework routines and try to consciously include one self-care task. This can be whatever works best for your family, such as a daily or weekly walk, meditation, or creating art.
These tumultuous times are affecting people in all different ways, but one common concern is that of safety. Start addressing this concern by making sure you follow up-to-date guidelines from credible health sources. Make sure kids understand the basic health guidelines such as wearing a mask, washing their hands effectively, and keeping a safe distance from others. Model these behaviors for them, so they know what’s expected. Help illustrate this point by explaining why these precautions are so important in age-appropriate language that isn’t scary or sensationalized. Wearing a mask and washing hands won’t always go perfectly, so if you’re struggling in these areas try to implement a reward system to encourage safe behaviors.
A technique you can use to calm a child’s anxiety is a deep breathing technique called “smell the cookies, blow the candles out.” Instruct them to take slow, deep breaths by imagining they’re smelling a plate of their favorite fresh-baked cookies and then blowing out a bunch of birthday candles. Deep breathing allows the brain to take a break and grounds the child and their body in the present moment.
If anxiety in your child pops up often, try to make time to have a focused conversation about it. Sit down and ask directly about their concerns and really listen. Always address topics they bring up with empathy and try to come up with a practical plan to help them work through their fears. Make sure to tell your child that they are loved and cared for. Remind them that you are not going to put them in harm’s way and that you are doing your best to make safe decisions.
Lastly, make sure you’re caring for yourself as well. Anxiety and stress in parents can build to the point of disrupted function, which negatively affects children. Take care of yourself so you can be the best caretaker for your kids. This is a stressful time for you too. You have had to adapt quickly into many different roles and make adjustments you’ve never had to even consider before. Give yourself the credit you deserve and check in with your own feelings often.
Before you put any of this advice to work, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back because you’ve got this. You’re doing a great job.