During COVID-19, in the interest of safety, governments across the world-imposed lockdowns for months on end. In this process, work, school and other daily activities were affected. For more than a year, students have been attending school online. This is a sudden change they had to adapt to, which could have made it difficult.
Children may have to return to regular school at some point in the near future. In pre-pandemic times itself, school may have been a cause of anxiety for children. Returning to school after COVID could be even more anxiety-provoking for some.
Globally, the number of COVID cases is 209 million. With new variants developing out of mutation, fully eliminating the virus is a huge task faced by most countries. Compared to the general population, children are at a lower risk of COVID-19. Studies show that children account for 13% of the cases worldwide. The death rate due to COVID among children is 0.3%.
The causes of back-to-school anxiety could include:
- Transitions in school can be even more stressful now
- Fear with respect to getting sick and following safety precautions properly
- Anxiety-related to managing social interactions in person and friendships
- Leaving the comfort zone of home
- Separation anxiety from loved ones
- Fear of falling behind in class
- Fear of being unable to perform academically
- Loss of parent to COVID
The symptoms of back-to-school anxiety can present in several ways. Common signs include:
- Sleep issues and nightmares
- Shifts in mood
- Worries with respect to school
- Feeling worthless, helpless and hopeless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Social withdrawal and avoidance of people and places that are triggers
- Somatic symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches
- Seeking reassurance
- Attempts to avoid school and related activities
- Impaired performance in academics
- Substance use as a coping measure
Parents play a vital role in helping kids cope during such circumstances and their behavior not only has a short-term impact but also has far-reaching consequences. It is important that parents create space for open communication and validate their children’s feelings without brushing them aside as silly.
It is also important that parents model the skills required to deal with stressful situations. When parents demonstrate effective coping strategies, children are likely to imitate. Parents can help children learn techniques such as deep breathing to cope with anxiety.
Teaching children to focus on positive things can be helpful. Using transitional objects which can remind the child of the home can also help him/her feel connected. Rewarding the child for going to school and reinforcing their behavior can go miles.
Parents can help children get used to separation by practicing it at home in activities like playing alone or reading alone. Going to school and dropping the child off can have a fixed and predictable routine, which can help the child feel less uncertain.
Explaining to the child that falling sick is possible, but the circumstances are safe enough to go to school and there’s only a certain extent to which one can keep safe can help the child feel less stressed.
It is also helpful to foster flexibility as the times are uncertain. Explaining to the child that sometimes plans may change and virtual classes may resume is important. Finding a psychological anchor or support system at school who can be of help is useful. This could be a student or teacher.
If the child is still very distressed, seeing a counselor or therapist is recommended. Children who already have mental health issues prior to the pandemic also need extra support in these times.
Some techniques can help prevent back-to-school anxiety.
- Journaling can help a child become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, which can make it easier to get help and help themselves.
- Having a routine exercise, homework, meals and sleep can be helpful.
- Planning ahead can help the child feel more prepared to deal with school.
- Yoga and meditation have been found to be effective in managing anxiety and depression.
- Finding ways to socialize online or in-person acts as a stress relief as well.
- Spending time outside in nature is associated with reduced anxiety, depression and stress.
- Positive visualization and mental imagery can help a child become more optimistic about going to school and reduce feelings of fear.
- Supporting the child without putting pressure on them to perform can make the child feel more confident.
- Making the child feel unconditionally accepted is also very crucial in alleviating anxiety.
Back-to-school anxiety can be prevented in most cases, however, it is very important for parents to recognise when to ask for help. When the frequency, intensity and duration of negative emotions, thoughts and maladaptive behaviors is high, seeking treatment from a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist is required.
- NCBI SARS-CoV-2 Resources - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sars-cov-2/)
- Coronavirus - (https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_3)
- 5 Questions: Elizabeth Reichert on Handling Back-to-School Anxiety in a Pandemic - (https://healthier.stanfordchildrens.org/en/tips-for-kids-back-to-school-anxiety/)
- Back-to-School Anxiety During COVID - (https://childmind.org/article/back-to-school-anxiety-during-covid/#:~:text=In%20some%20cases%20kids%20may,things%20at%20their%20own%20pace.)
- 6 Ways to Cope with School Anxiety After Coronavirus - (https://www.psycom.net/school-anxiety-after-coronavirus)
- Back to school anxiety - (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/back-to-school-anxiety-2018082314617)
- 3 warning signs your child might have anxiety about going back to school, and what you can do to help - (https://www.insider.com/back-to-school-anxiety-how-help-kids-2021-8)
- Anxiety in School: How Parents Can Help - (https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/back-to-school-anxiety/)
- Coping with Back-to-School Anxiety During COVID-19 - (https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2021/08/coping-with-back-to-school-anxiety-during-covid-19/)
- 5 Tips to Ease Back-to-School Anxiety - (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-tips-to-ease-backtoschool-anxiety)
Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:
Anita Ramesh. (2021, September 15). Covid Pandemic: How Parents can Help Kids Deal with Back-to-School Anxiety. Medindia. Retrieved on Dec 07, 2022 from https://www.medindia.net/patients/lifestyleandwellness/covid-pandemic-how-parents-can-help-kids-deal-with-back-to-school-anxiety.htm.
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Anita Ramesh. "Covid Pandemic: How Parents can Help Kids Deal with Back-to-School Anxiety". Medindia. https://www.medindia.net/patients/lifestyleandwellness/covid-pandemic-how-parents-can-help-kids-deal-with-back-to-school-anxiety.htm. (accessed Dec 07, 2022).
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