Helping kids with back-to-school anxiety during COVID-19
Back-to-school season is upon us, and this year’s first-day jitters are combined with anxieties about a pandemic and the many changes it’s caused. University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Associate Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling R.J. Davis offers parents guidance on how to manage their own anxieties to help their children cope.
Davis said that it’s vital for parents to manage their own reactions. “If adults have fearful, anxious responses to circumstances, that is communicated to the child in many ways and they’ll mirror that reaction,” he said. “Try to stay intentional and calm when you’re discussing or hearing things that worry you, and be mindful that your reaction can be very impactful on a young child.”
He added that it’s helpful to explain to your child that we are in a “different” time, and that isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s just different. “Try to normalize ‘different.’ Explain that for a while, we have to do things in an unusual way, but some things will always stay the same, like our love and support,” he said. “Emphasize that things are not the same as before, and certain things must be done in another way, just for now. This will help increase your child’s ability to tolerate and adapt to change, and learn flexibility.”
Ensuring that children know their feelings are heard is another important way to help them deal with their worries. “Kids need to feel that they’re being heard and what they say has value, and that they’re not being dismissed just because they’re young,” he said. “Talking and ‘getting it off your chest’ is cathartic for kids just as it is for adults. Give the kids a ‘listening time’ when they are encouraged to talk about their thoughts about going back to school.”
Finally, creating a new routine can help children feel that there is still structure in their daily schedule. Even though kids might say they don’t like living by a schedule, Davis said, they actually manage much better when their day is at least somewhat predictable and ordered. “When kids get older, they can build their own structures, but for younger children, try to be creative about routines and promote acceptance of those routines,” he said. “Being without any structure is confusing for kids at any age.”
Learn more about UHCL’s Counseling program online.