The return to school can be a stressful time for parents and students. There are new routines to learn, new relationships to navigate, and new subjects to master. For many families, this fall may be the first time in over a year that their children are back to school in person due to limited in-person learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some tips to help families reduce their anxiety this school year.
Establish a routine. Predictability is reassuring. Have children go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning. Create a plan for getting ready in the morning, which may include preparing the night before, such as selecting their outfit or packing their lunch.
Normalize thoughts and feelings. It’s OK to “feel your feelings.” Pretending you don’t experience negative emotions doesn’t help anyone. Talking about them can help normalize these experiences and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“The most important thing is for families to be open and honest about their feelings,” says Todd Peters, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Sheppard Pratt. “Start a dialogue. Allow your children to talk about how they are feeling, and what might be scary or challenging. Be sure to listen first. I think a lot of times people jump in to help. But listening and understanding why someone is feeling the way they are can be just as helpful.”
Identify available resources. You and your child are not alone. There are teachers, school counselors, support staff, community groups, family members, and friends who can support your family with the return to school and new routines.
Lead by example and focus on the positive. While the new school year may introduce new stresses, it is also full of new opportunities to learn, play, and make friends. “Your child looks to you for guidance and comfort, so do what you can to model a positive outlook for the year ahead,” says Dr. Peters. Help your child brainstorm a list of things they are excited about for the new school year.
It’s also important to take a little time for yourself during the stressful back-to-school season, so do something that relaxes you and gets you in the right state of mind.
Whatever “back to school” looks like to you, don’t forget to extend grace and compassion to yourself, your children, and others. Allowing yourself and others to make mistakes and be imperfect can go a long way in preserving mental health.
Check out our Children’s Mental Health Matters YouTube playlist to hear directly from our experts.
Vice President and Chief Medical OfficerSpecialties:Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), LGBTQ+ Mental Health Issues, Medical Informatics, Pediatric Mood Disorders, Pediatric Anxiety Disorders