If you’re anything like me, this entire pandemic has been bittersweet. While I’ve really enjoyed the extra time with my child, it has been utterly exhausting and I’m ready to have some time away. You might be feeling the same. It’s exciting to not have to juggle working from home and all of the child care challenges we’ve faced over the course of the pandemic.

However, the thought of returning to school can be exhausting. While we want our children to participate as much as possible, there are a lot of challenges that come with scheduling, extracurricular activities, and transportation. There may also be challenges depending on your district’s requirements regarding vaccines and other health-related problems. These are very personal decisions that can produce a lot of post-COVID anxiety for families.

Managing Your Anxiety As A Parent

Oftentimes, our anxiety is trying to help us solve problems we cannot control. It can be really challenging to try, but mindfulness skills help us accept what we can control. Here are some steps to figure out what you can control:

Back-to-School Logistics

  • Start planning now. The more time you give yourself to figure things out, the less likely you are to feel stressed the week before school starts.
  • If you haven’t been informed already, reach out to your school’s administration to determine what their policies will be in the fall.
  • Think through your new schedule as a family. Which extracurricular activities do you want to resume?
  • Make a plan for your updated child care needs and communicate them with all caregivers in advance.

Rebuilding Your Support Network

  • You do not have to be alone in determining the best decisions for your child. There are people who want to help you navigate back-to-school challenges.
  • Talk to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns regarding their health. They often will have the most updated information and help you make decisions with your child’s specific needs in mind.
  • If your child is old enough, talk to them about their feelings regarding COVID precautions at school.
  • Talk to other parents you trust about what they have been doing to manage their family’s health decisions.

Managing Your Child’s Anxiety

The most important thing you can do for your child right now is preparing them for what school is going to be like. Children do best when they know what to expect, so it’s important to take the time to answer their questions and talk to them about their back-to-school experience.

Here are some things to consider when preparing your child:

Physical Needs

  • Update their medical records.
  • Practice their school’s safety protocols with them.
  • Gather school supplies.
    Do you have the means to provide them with some special supplies that excite them?

Mental Needs

  • If you or your child have any concerns about their ability to complete schoolwork when they return, it can be so challenging to face that fear. To make it easier, identify the support you have around you. Connect with other parents who may be feeling the same way.
  • Learn what your school’s process is for helping your child with academic needs. Do they have homework help? Tutoring? After-school activities? Many schools have resources if you ASK.

Emotional Needs

  • Help your child name all of their feelings related to returning to school. Are they happy to see their friends? Relieved to not use Zoom anymore? Angry about the things they missed? Whatever they are feeling, okay the emotion, and let them tell you more about this feeling.
  • Be prepared for your child’s emotions to fluctuate over the summer and into the beginning of the school year. The first week of school is always exhausting, but we’re all going to need more grace and rest this year!
  • If your child is struggling to adjust to school or showing signs of excessive worry (acting out, withdrawing, irritability), it may be time to consider professional help.
  • Your school may have a school counselor or social worker who can help. If not, they may be able to refer you to child therapists in your area who can.

Social Needs

  • Help your child identify the friends they missed the most.
  • Plan play dates for your child to interact with friends in person again.
  • Allow them to grieve the friends who may have moved away during the pandemic or will not be returning to school.

The pandemic has been incredibly challenging for all of us, but we’ve survived all the challenges that learning in the home provided. I hope your entire family is feeling excited about returning to school, but know that it’s completely normal if you’re not. If you or your child are feeling anxious about school, please find resources in your community to help. You do not have to be alone in navigating your family’s return to school and all of the new challenges it will also bring.

 

Elise Champanhet is a Mental Health Therapist seeing individuals seeking physical, emotional, and mental wellness at Optimum Joy Clinical Counseling in the Greater Chicago Area.

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