This school year comes with special challenges for kids as the United States grapples with a coronavirus pandemic, but experts say parents can help their children navigate the tough emotional terrain.
Whether returning to a school building, continuing online learning or adjusting to a hybrid school environment, it is normal for children and adolescents to have some stress or anxiety about going back to school, said Samanta Boddapati, a child clinical psychologist and prevention coordinator at Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Fears of getting sick or following school safety protocols for COVID-19 may make the transition even more difficult.
In a survey of parents by Nationwide Children’s, 2 out of 5 said they had concerns about their kid’s social and emotional well-being.
Very young children can suffer from separation anxiety about being away from family and in new environments. For these children, experts recommend making a special goodbye part of your routine and reminding your child when you will see each other again. Some kids like a transitional object — an item that reminds them of mom or dad while at school.
Older children being in a classroom might be uncomfortable.
“Maintaining a routine is important, especially for families who are continuing to do online learning full-time. Create a part of your child’s day that is structured and a part of their day that has some flexibility,” said Parker Huston, a Nationwide Children’s pediatric psychologist.
The hospital’s experts offer these tips for parents and caregivers:
- Tell your child there are a lot of unknowns, but that you and others are there to help them.
- Discuss fears and talk through options and alternatives.
- Model coping skills to your children, so they know how to respond to unknowns and build resilience.
- Help them understand special procedures in schools such as wearing a mask and undergoing temperature checks.
- Find out what resources are available at school for your child, such as social-emotional support or counseling.
“A certain amount of stress is normal, but parents, caregivers and educators should look out for drastic changes in functioning or behavior,” Huston said in a hospital news release. “Sleep changes, mood changes, inability to engage with social environments or friends, increased anxiety about things that they maybe weren’t nervous about in the past are changes you want to talk to your child’s pediatrician about.”
For more on kids going back to school, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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