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Managing Back to School Anxiety

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

Let’s face it—this year, back to school will be different and a whole lot harder on parents, teachers, and children.  While some may be excited to embrace something new, it’s normal for you and your children to feel anxious. For children and teens returning to school—some virtually—it’s going to be stressful and disruptive for the entire family. As the new academic year approaches, worries and fears are natural.  But don’t worry, you got this, and you are definitely not alone!  

I’ve been feeling this looming cloud for months and found some helpful tips that I hope you will find useful as you navigate some of the complicated emotions your children may be facing and new and challenging situations with going back to school.

Many times, when we think of school we think of rigor, seriousness, and scholastics.  Well, given the state of everything this year we might be better off shaking it up a little bit, no matter if your child is doing in-person, hybrid, or 100% virtual learning.  My kids are creatures of habit and love a good schedule.  So, as I think about this unique school year I know I need to plan out our schedules—even more than normal given I’m working from home and we have 100% virtual instruction.  So, it’s back to basics. You will need some chalk in hand, a board, and a plan for daily schedules, breaks, and fun time. While it may seem tedious, this type of organization will help you start your day with less anxiety and the mindset that, you got this.  But remember, in this environment its more important now than ever to keep it fun, while keeping our eyes on the academic prize. During their 15-minute breaks in between sessions, add in activities like “Flash Dance Fun” and “Speed Game of War” that you can all do together.  Because in all honesty, you probably need a break from those endless work calls too.

Understand that your kids focus and ability to perform academically may be little off at first. When kids are afraid or anxious or fearful, their attention, thinking, and learning may not be at its best.  The parts of the brain that control these just can’t function the same.  Be understanding, be patient, be empathetic.  Listen and acknowledge your child’s fear and feeling.  This will help them to feel someone hears them and help you to better understand their worries about going back to school. Often, they just want to share their feelings and know someone is listening.  They don’t need you to solve them.  Reassure them that while this is different, you and their teachers are doing the best you can to keep them safe. Don’ be dismissive. While their fears may seem trivial in comparison to those you have, knowing you hear and understand them is some of the most helpful things you can do. I know my daughter was feeling uneasy about attending 1st grade with all the new kids and teaching formats, and now add in that its 100% online this year, and I know she’s going to have some emotional challenges.  So, knowing my child love her stuffed bunny that brings her comfort guess who’s coming to virtual school? Yeah, that’s right.   Mr. Long Ears will be joining in the scholastic fun. While yes, I understand this is a crux, I know this will lower her anxiety and provide her the comfort she needs.

The start of any school year is super stressful on parents and this year will be exponentially stressful given the unprecedented times we are facing. But we’ve all faced challenges before and many times it isn’t about the solution, but about how we get there and the behaviors we reflect along the way. This is no different. If you are stressed and anxious, you child will mirror these behaviors.  I know I’m stressed! I have new roles that I never imagined.  I’m the teacher, I’m the IT specialist, the lunch lady, the PE teacher, and janitor all in one.  Those are just the new roles I’ve taken on this year.  I still need to be the mom, partner to my spouse, daughter and caregiver to my aging parents, a friend, an engineer, and the house manager. Our parenting roles just went into hyperdrive.  So, make sure you take time for you to find your center. Make time to do something you love. Since COVID started, I take 30 minutes every day to treat myself to a self-spa treatment. I lock myself in the bathroom, put on some music and just have some me time. I’ve had to learn to let go. Yes, while I do my spa-time I know other things aren’t getting done.  So maybe the dishes sit, or the laundry piles get a little bigger, but I know this is what I need to do to keep it together. It keeps me on point so that I am level and can pass that to my kids.  So, check your temperature and be mindful of what you are outwardly displaying. You don’t want to push you stress to your kids.

You can’t do it all.  I’ve sure tried. At the onset of COVID-19 I went into what my husband fondly refers to as “superhero” mommy mode. COVID-19 wasn’t going to ruin our fun.  I’d find solutions. Invent new ones.  Reinvent them if I had to. Yeah… that lasted for a few weeks till I hit the wall. While we parents want to give our kids everything and solve every problem that arise sometimes that’s just not going to happen. We’re only human.  So, I have found that to help lower my high expectations and a need to fix it all, I prioritize what solutions will yield the most benefit to our family and that includes my only mental sanity.  No one likes when “superhero” mommy turned into “cranky pants” mommy. Who while up all night making superhero tee-shirts and masks for a fun filled day of fighting crime, is now mentally checked out even after 3 espressos! Be mindful and be accepting that you can’t do it all and if you do try, know other things will likely suffer.

We all know this is a situation we could have never predicated.  It’s upended every aspect of our lives and many unknowns will persist for some time. Some things we will not be able to control, but some we can. Just know that you are not alone in this, and that you're doing the best you can to get back to school in the way best way possible.

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