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Back To School, Back To Anxiety: Managing Stress in a School Year Like No Other

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Usually, the start of the school year is typically met with excitement (and a bit of nervousness). But, in the wake of the pandemic, this excitement has been replaced with anxiety, worry and fear.

First things first, these feelings are normal – these are not normal times. We don’t have any experience to draw from on how we should feel, or act. So – go with it. Accept your fears, anxieties and worries. But, then…work on an action plan to manage those feelings. After all, you and your child still want this to be a wonderful, enjoyable school year.

Let’s get straight to a plan to help you get in the right mindset for the new school year.

Have a check-in convo.
We often want to shelter our kids from our stresses and worries, but this time, it’s a truly shared experience. A good starting point is to check-in to determine if there are any areas of concern for your child heading into the school year. Rather than focusing on worries or fear, try asking an open-ended question like, “How do feel about going back to school?” or “Is there anything on your mind?” Be honest and accurate about what’s happening, and try to minimize worry and fear by focusing on ways he/she and their school are working together to make it a safe space.

Regain control in the ways you can.
An effective way of regaining control is by establishing a new routine (even if it’s not all fun): handing them their mask in the morning, using hand sanitizer at school and when they return, not sharing their lunch, keeping space between themselves and other kids and their teachers, putting used clothes in a plastic bag when they get home, etc. You may want to write a checklist of things to do, and practice your new morning ritual a few times to help put your child (and you) at ease.

Repeat after me: Kids are more resilient than we think.
In study after study of people exposed to traumatic events, kids tend to do the best adapting to their new or changed circumstances. Children's brains are more “plastic” than adults' brains, so are more primed to take in new information. This can help them adapt more easily to a rapidly changing environment. Of course, this is not a general rule – every child is different. If your child is very worried or fearful, acknowledge these feelings and discuss what would make them feel better (e.g., part home/part in-class; going with them for the first few classes if they are young). Reflect on how your child has reacted and responded to the pandemic – and use this as a foundation on how to approach them as they navigate a new change in their routine.

Oh yeah, remember you need support too!

Again, because ALL of us with children in school are going through the same thing, chances are you know someone who gets it. Talk to other parents who can relate to how you’re feeling and offer a supportive ear. Or, to a friend who just takes your mind off things. Allow yourself to ask for help. Do your best to pay attention to self-care: a good diet, fresh air, exercise and adequate rest.

 

Remember: you don’t have to do this all alone. Even if you once did, these are different times, and “normal” is thrown out the window. Talk as a family about the new school year, how you feel, and what you can do to help each other make it one to remember – in positive ways.

First things first, these feelings are normal – these are not normal times.

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