9 Ways to Manage Back-to-School Anxiety During COVID-19 - MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds

9 Ways to Manage Back-to-School Anxiety During COVID-19

Masked students sit physically distanced in classroom while teacher takes one of their temperatures


Posted in: Stress

Topics: Anxiety, COVID-19 + Family Mental Health, Stress

This article was written for and originally published on Mass General Giving. Read the original article here.

Starting a new school year is always stressful for both kids and parents but never more so than this year, when everything will feel different. It’s not just a new school, classroom or teacher — though it could be all those things — for students who return in person, hallways will be marked with tape every six feet; classrooms will be spaced with desks far apart; and face coverings will be required for most kids. A whole new world, and lots of anxiety that comes with it.

For parents naturally, there are concerns about safety, but the worst is not knowing what to expect, including whether the return to school will be in person, a hybrid in-person/remote learning model or full remote learning. And many parents had to choose one model or the other, not knowing which is really better for academics and for social emotional learning.

Reduce Your Child’s Back-to-School Anxiety

1. Find out as much as you can about what to expect in the classroom. Do this no matter what model, and for in-person about lunchroom, recess, and extracurriculars like art, music, and gym. Be sure to stay in touch with the school.

2. Remind your child about the continued need to stay safe.  Wear masks, don’t touch your face, wash your hands frequently, and keep a good distance between yourself and others. This can be talked about in an age-appropriate way.

3. Practice a school day routine as much as possible. Structure is really important for children:

  • Get up early in the morning and have breakfast
  • Drive or follow the bus route, or walk past your child’s school
  • If possible, visit the classroom and meet your child’s teacher
  • For the times your kids are home, determine a place where schoolwork will be done
  • Structure their day as if they were in school — time in front of the screen, time for doing assignments, taking breaks, having meals and for social interactions, if they have the opportunity in your community.

4. Talk with your child about their relationship with peers. Many kids will be excited about being with their peers again. If remote, this will be a very new experience — meeting new classmates via Google classroom or other remote learning platforms. Be sure to listen to any fears or concerns they have.

5. Have your child connect with friends before and right after the school year starts. Include proper physical distancing and masks if they are in first grade or higher. In elementary school, once a child knows their teacher, they can reach out to see if any friends have the same teacher. In middle and high school, they might find out who shares the same classes.

6. Remind your child that the school’s plan may change based on safety. Remind them that there is the possibility that schools may not open for in-person learning this year. Or they may start in person some of the time, then shut down and become remote.

7. Prepare yourself for schools staying closed or being open on staggered days. If you are able, consider back-up childcare options, modifying your work schedule, working remotely, and thinking ahead about how you can support your child’s learning from home. This might involve hiring tutors, coaches or other academic guides, or collaborating safely with neighbors, if you anticipate being unable to provide the home schooling yourself.

8. Keep in touch with your school system and teachers about the evolving plan. This is especially true for learning from home.

9. Keep in touch with other parents with kids in the community. You may find out how they are coping with hybrid or remote schooling and learn new ways of managing your own situation that you had not considered. In addition, your own anxiety may be reduced by your contact with and support from others.

Every step in the coming school year offers an opportunity for an ongoing two-way conversation with your child. Listen carefully to what they say and be careful not to burden them with your fears. Giving voice to concerns means sharing them so no one is holding their worries alone.

And remember, kids’ development is fluid, and many kids can make up for lost time, academically and socially. Humans are resilient. So, if schools don’t open — or must close their physical doors — it’s important to be hopeful and positive that whatever is lost or delayed in the moment, either academic or social emotional, can be recaptured later, so long as we are mindful about the need for catching up.

For more resources on supporting your family during the pandemic, please visit our Coronavirus and Family Mental Health topic page on our website.

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Deirdre Phillips

Deirdre Phillips

Deedee Phillips is the former managing director for the MGH Clay Center. Her commitment to mental health education for youth began in her prior role as Executive Director of The Autism Consortium, a unique clinical and research collaboration based at...

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