Coping with Back-to-School Anxiety During COVID

Back-to-school jitters are normal every fall, but as families prepare for the beginning of the
2021-2022 school year, these typical worries are colliding with fresh uncertainties about the
ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaving children and parents more anxious than usual. Returning
to school as the pandemic stretches on may spark anxiety in children of all ages, but there are
strategies parents can use to build children’s resilience to handle this challenging situation.

Children who are more anxious may ask a lot of questions. Foster open conversations. The first
step is to listen. Acknowledge what your child is feeling. Your child should feel that it is okay to
feel what they are feeling. Work collaboratively with your child to figure out a plan. By creating
small opportunities for getting through difficult situations and coping with their worries, children
will build the confidence and the independence they need to feel more in control and less afraid.
Parents cannot promise children that they will not get sick, but they can express confidence that
the schools have done months of planning to minimize risk and keep everyone safe.

Parents can start talking about going back to school in advance. Engage children in the fun
components of returning to school, such as picking out school supplies or new clothing –
something they can get excited about. Try to get them to talk about the good things about school.
Parents can also drive by the school or visit its playground to build excitement. It can also be
helpful to start practicing saying goodbye and leaving the house, encouraging independent play,
and helping children adjust to being away from their parents.

Parents should shift the family schedule during the week or two before school starts to get back
in the habit of going to bed and waking up earlier. They can also work on reestablishing other
pre-pandemic routines that worked well for the family.

Parents are the biggest models for their children. If our children see us really anxious about
something, they are going to feed off of that. Parents need to be mindful of their own emotions
so that they can self-regulate and become present for their child. Parents should be a steady
source of support. Stay calm and stay positive. It is okay for the parent to say they feel worried
or do not know the answer because that shows it is alright to feel those things. It is essential for
parents to find moments for self-care. This is not only important for you as a parent, but it also
shows your child that you have strategies to take care of yourself. Children appreciate knowing
what you are doing to manage the situation. You can also invite your child into engaging in
healthy coping activities with you (e.g., going for a walk, taking deep breaths).

It is important to remember that children are resilient and adaptable, and for many, after a period
of transition, they will find their groove.