After losing an entire year of study and memorable events due to pandemic, more and more parents are looking to make up for their youngsters’ lost time, but school is here already.
As things began to open up again, and almost everyone received the Covid-19 vaccine, parents began to hear a new signature phrase from their kids: “I don’t want to go.” Not to their swimming lessons, not to the grocery store, not even to the outdoor patio of their favorite place to eat.
After all the uncertainties of the past year, some kids are reported anxious and worried about reengaging with the world outside their close-knit family. With the return to in-person school approaching, parents are at a loss.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on many families’ routines, including more isolation and exclusion from in-person schooling, related to worsening mental health in young people.
Since the onset of the virus, there’s been a dramatic increase in reported youth anxiety, especially in relation to fears of the virus, along with greater boredom, frustration, and inattentiveness. Recent findings show that over 45% of adolescents reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
But young people aren’t the only ones who struggle emotionally. Their parents also battle increased symptoms of depression, particularly those experiencing high levels of anxiety related to COVID-19 exposure or infection. They must juggle the demands of the job, home management, child behavior, and schooling. A large number of people are able to adapt to new and stressful situations, but some battle severe and extended psychological stress.
So, what can parents do to care for both themselves and their children as we ease back into interacting in public?
Families Need to Keep Their Thoughts and Feelings In-Check
Take a few minutes to think about the emotions you’ve gone through the last year. The chance is you’re feeling a lot of different emotions.
Perhaps you’re worried about your kids and your role as a parent. Maybe you’re sad that your kids have missed so much or they’re behind academically. No matter the cause of your feelings, labeling them can help you make sense of them. And can help you think about what you want for them this school year. While it’s necessary to avoid projecting your feelings onto your kids, it’s also important not to minimize the stress of this past year.
Help Them Get Back on Track and Ask for Help if Necessary
Encourage your kids to ask educators and other school staff for assistance, whether the problem is simple – like the location of the canteen – or more important, like needing extra assistance with a school subject or mental health support. That might be the case with students starting at a different school, as simply navigating a new location can feel intimidating. You want your child to know it’s ok not be ok. It’s normal to ask for help, that’s why students need to be reassured that they’re in a safe haven at school, which is something that has been missing for so many students during the pandemic.
Reintroduce Social Activities Safely
Most online-schooled students had a really bumpy year. They were lonely, they were not learning well, most didn’t have any outdoor activities like sports, and many of those kids struggled mentally and physically.
While the weather is still friendly, outdoor activities and visits with friends – picnics, hikes, ball games in the park, and socializing in Brooklyn’s day camps – can help reintroduce children to group activities and take some of the pressure out of going back to the classroom.
Obviously, these activities should only be encouraged if they can take place safely and ideally outside. Be aware of the local rates of transmission, determining what level of risk and connection your family is comfortable with (for example, soccer is safer than wrestling, tennis is safer than soccer), and make sure everyone respects these measures. That means distancing when possible and wearing masks when in groups.
Back To Your Routine
The pandemic has disarranged children’s schedules, with many eating and sleeping and odd hours.
To help them get back on track before school starts, return to your old school-year routine now: Encourage regular sleep and wake hours (enforce “no-screen” rule for at least one hour before bed), and try to keep mealtimes constant – with breakfast early enough to be eaten before class and dinner not too late.
Bring new dietary boundaries, too: promote fruits and vegetables over sweets and highly processed foods. Many adults (and children) have considerably gained excess weight as a result of the quarantine, in part because of less exercise and overeating due to stress.
Be Prepared for a Potentially Bumpy Return to School
Going back to “normal” means your kid will be socializing with children whose families may have had applied different safety measures. Some students may avoid using masks; others may come from families that meticulously practice physical distancing, while some may have families that avoid these precautions.
Some students may even find themselves experiencing bullying as a result of their precautions. If your kid’s school is not demanding universal masking, you may have to discuss with teachers and administrators directly to implement these changes.
Be The Support Your Children Need
When they’re feeling vulnerable, kids need more reassurance, physical affection, and acknowledgment of their feelings. In times of uncertainty and stress, let your child know that you’re there for them by increasing the amount of interaction and attention you provide at home.
Have conversations about their day by going around the table and asking to tell one story or check-ins individually. If your kid seems distressed, troubled, or is expressing fear or anxiety, listen to their concerns and offer reassurance. If necessary, be ready to contact a teacher or call a pediatrician.