In just about one month, most local schools will be kicking off the start of the 2021/2022 school year.
With lower positivity rates and a significant portion of the population being vaccinated, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is encouraging all schools to return to in-person learning if at all possible. But what exactly that is going to look like is still unclear.
If this school year is anything like last year, guidance from ISBE will be updated multiple times between now and the beginning of the school year, so even the information we have right now could change. We know children with anxiety do better when they know what to expect. So how do you start to prepare an anxious child for a return to school when it is unclear what that school year is going to look like?
Even though we can’t prepare kids for exactly what school is going to look like, there are still some things we can do to help them prepare for this new school year.
How do you help a child with anxiety return to school after Covid-19?
We can prepare them for what we do know. You can drive by their school, maybe even play on the playground. Once you know their teacher, you can arrange a time to meet them, maybe in person or on a video call. You can remind your child that you and their school are going to do everything they can to keep all kids safe. Even a little bit of preparation can decrease feelings of anxiety.
We can validate feelings. If your child tells you they are worried about going back to school, you can tell them it is okay to feel anxious. If you are feeling anxious, it is okay to let them know that too. However, you want to model calm, brave behavior for them. If you maintain a calm and brave attitude, you will be able to share that attitude with your child.
We can practice coping skills. Deep breathing is a great way to help kids manage their feelings. We can also practice positive self-talk. For example, if your child is having difficulty separating from you, you can remind them to tell themselves “I am brave and I know I will see my parent(s) after school. I am going to have fun at school. I can do this.”
We can set realistic expectations.
While this school year is going to look more like a typical school year, it is unrealistic to expect it will be exactly the same as pre-covid years. Going into this school year with that understanding will help both you and your child. And along those lines…..
We can be flexible and adaptable. In all likelihood there are going to be some hiccups along the way or guidelines and policies will change. Trying our best to be flexible and adaptable will make these ongoing changes a little easier to accept.
We can set aside time to regularly check-in. We know the rates of anxiety and depression have been soaring for kids and teens throughout this pandemic. Even if your child has been doing well up until this point, returning to in person learning with new guidelines is likely going to be anxiety provoking. Checking in with them at regular intervals helps kids to manage feelings. And it gives you an idea of how they are coping.
We can focus on the positive. We can focus on the things your child used to like about school. Humans notice what we are looking for. If someone is looking for all the things going wrong, that is what they will notice, but if someone is looking for all the things that are going well, then that is what they will notice. So you can draw your child’s attention to what is positive. What are they most looking forward to? What are you most looking forward to?
We can know when to get help.
If your child experiences severe daily meltdowns for two to three weeks at school drop off and they aren’t showing any improvement, it would be a good time to seek additional support. Additionally, if your child is experiencing difficulty sleeping, lack of enjoyment in activities they previously enjoyed, lack of motivation, withdrawal, safety concerns or significant mood changes, it would also be a good time to see additional support.
We have a team of therapists at Champaign Counseling that may be able to provide this support. If you would like additional information about what Champaign Counseling has to offer or to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists, please contact us here or call (217) 203-2008.
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