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Back to School Anxiety? For All Parents and Kids, this Info is for You!

Whether you’re a student, a parent, a teacher, or an administrator, going back to school can come with mental health challenges. Let’s work together to start the year off right.

The Delta variant really messed with our Back-To-School plans this year. All the kids were going to go back to the actual school building this fall (maybe even without masks! 😳), and parents could finally get a break from 24/7 hands-on parenting and focus just on work during the day.

Then along came Delta.

Delta’s the new sheriff in town, and Delta ain’t havin no peace of mind. No way. No how. Not at home. Not at school. Not anywhere. Ever, ever, EVER AGAIN! (Ok maybe not “ever” again…But seriously, when???)

Whether you’re a student, a parent, a teacher, or an administrator, the 2021 school year is starting with a big bang…of confusion, panic and anxiety. You have it. Your kids have it. Heck, we all have it.

Anxiety. What it is. Do I have it? How do I know if my kids have it?

Most importantly, what as a family do we do about it?

Let’s start the year off together, prepared to address the health and mental health challenges we are likely to face.

The first day of a new school year can be anxiety provoking with students and parents alike struggling with first day jitters. This year, we are faced with a new level of stressors as the Covid pandemic rages on. Although schools have opened for in-person learning, parents and students continue to experience heightened anxiety about the potential exposure to COVID and how to manage if quarantining is warranted. Some students haven’t seen the inside of the classroom since March of 2020 (over 18 months!). It’s A LOT!

Back to School Struggles

The acquisition of social skills is developmental in nature. After 18 months of isolation and virtual social reality, students may be quite anxious returning to social interaction IRL. This is especially true for children and teens who were particularly socially anxious before the world shut down in 2020. Younger students tend to feel more anxiety. Teens are trending toward feeling depressed. We know now, more than ever, that mental health is critical for overall health. How can you tell if your child has “gotten a case of the twisties”…lost their footing…and doesn’t know how to find solid emotional ground on their own?

What are the symptoms of a struggling student?

  • In Elementary-Aged Children

    • Tearfulness

    • Clingy Behavior

    • Regression in Developmental Milestones

    • Oppositional Behavior

    • Complaining of Stomachaches and Headaches

  • In School-Aged Children

    • Refusal to Attend School

    • Withdrawing /Isolating in their Room

    • Irritability

    • Moodiness

    • Increase in Risky Behavior

    • Increased Screen Behavior

  • For All Youth

    • Difficulty Concentrating

    • Poor Grades

    • Few Social Connections

    • Increased Excuses to Avoid/Leave School

    • Problems Sleeping

    • Loss of appetite or overeating

According to Stanford Children's Health pediatric and adolescent psychologist Elizabeth Reichert, symptoms may dissipate over the first few weeks. However, if they become exacerbated or linger it may be time to seek out help from a professional.

Are you nervous about Back to School?

According to ANN and Robert H Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, 71% of caregivers across the US reported that the COVID 19 pandemic has negatively impacted their children’s mental health. Once you know how the child is reacting, you can take the time to understand and be equipped with tools to combat their anxious feelings.

Steps to assessing how a Child is Coping

  1. Just ask them! And then take time to listen, observe, and empathize with their responses

  2. Ask them about their feelings regarding virtual vs. in-person learning

  3. Ask them about their thoughts on wearing, or not wearing, masks

  4. Ask about their opinions and concerns about quarantines

  5. Ask them how comfortable they feel around other students and teachers

How to Cope with Back to School

Clinicians at SoulSpring Counseling can help with this transition by working with you to come up with a new routine that suits you and your current needs. Is your child struggling with confidence, social skills, and identity coming into the new school year? We got you on that too.

What can parents/guardians do to help?

  • Validate their feelings – telling students it’s ok to feel anxious

  • Communicate often – talking about what to expect

  • Reassure safety – show students that you are confident in the safety precautions being taken

  • Establish routine and structure – create a daily schedule and stick to it. Predictability and consistent healthy boundaries create emotional safety

  • Monitor sugar and food intake

  • Promote flexibility – even though routine is important, explain that things can change given the pandemic’s fluid nature and that you need to be adaptable

  • Work on emotional identification – help your children understand and communicate their feelings

  • Explain and model emotion regulation – show children how you cope with stressors; such as, taking three deep breaths when stressed

  • Encourage your children to resume their favorite activities, taking safety precautions of course

  • Praise – make sure to verbalize to your kids all the behaviors you want to reinforce

  • Allow your child to struggle a bit so they can learn social, emotional, and behavior skills they will need for success

Make Sure to Take Care of You

You have to take care of you so you can best care for your children. We all know this. How well do each of us do it? 🤨

Let's Do This!

  • Prioritize your own sleep and nutrition. Refuel the engine

  • Communicate regularly with your child’s school to help you, and your child, feel safe there

  • Monitor your own emotions and get honest about how well you cope. Your children take their emotional cues, and coping mechanisms, from you

  • Role model safety precaution behavior

  • Be intentional to connect socially with others

  • Do everything for yourself that you want for your children

If it ain’t workin, or you’re exhausted, or overwhelmed, ask for help. Play Therapy is a well-documented and effective intervention to help children express emotions and learn to cope with them. Psychotherapy for adults (yes, that’s you!) with a licensed, competent, and empathic therapist will also help you to vent, cope, identify and implement strategies to help you help your family get through this pandemic.



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