Remember how it felt to be a kid? Homework, grades, and the fear of not fitting in. Cafeteria food, peer pressure, and missing the school bus! Imagine feeling all that stress (which is totally normal for school-age students), but coupled with the upheaval of the COVID pandemic over the past few years. The emotional, social, and educational toll is significant. It’s no wonder that back-to-school anxiety is more real than ever. Let’s drill down and look at several reasons why back-to-school anxiety levels may be high, particularly in the era of the pandemic:
- School disruptions during lockdowns have led to many kids being behind in their studies or not meeting educational milestones. In fact, students are on average 5 months behind in mathematics and 4 months behind in reading.
- Kids may worry excessively about their health amid new COVID variants. They may also be stressed at the prospect of their family or friends being exposed to the virus or having to go back into isolation. Even in areas where restrictions are no longer in force, some kids may have anxiety due to previous trauma.
- After extended periods of remote learning, children are less accustomed to the social stimulation of the school day. They may feel overwhelmed, or have difficulties creating and maintaining friendships.
- For some kids, going back-to-school means moving out of the comfort zone they’ve become used to at home. This can cause separation anxiety, where children don’t want to leave their parents or guardians and may even refuse to go to school.
- During school closures, students did not have to stick to a regular routine. Getting back into the habit of rising early, following the class schedule, doing homework, and studying for exams can be very challenging.
Parenting school-age kids and even college students is never easy. And all the issues around post-COVID back-to-school anxiety makes it even harder. So how do you recognize if your child or teen might be anxious about going back-to-school after break? As a parent, how can you deal with the anxiety of going back to school after COVID?
Here are four tips to guide you:
1. Observe your child's behavior
The biggest gift you can give kids is your attention. Kids thrive on meaningful interactions, and these provide you with an opportunity to closely observe what’s going on with them mentally and emotionally. Make sure to spend quality time with them every day. Pay attention to any changes in behavior. If you have any concerns, seek assistance from your family doctor or a trained therapist.
2. Create opportunities for activities and socialization
During the pandemic, kids and college students missed out on the daily interactions that are so important to building social skills and a healthy learning environment. Now it’s time to catch up, and that may contribute to back-to-school anxiety for parents and their kids! The best thing parents can do is to encourage kids to socialize in a safe and supportive environment. This way, they can slowly build up their confidence, and reduce the social anxiety of being back at school. A great way to get back into socializing is with an after-school activity, like a sports team or social club. This is also great for teens and college students, who can learn to connect with peers over shared interests.
3. Communicate with the school
Teachers today are often overloaded with large class sizes, lots of assignments to grade, and issues to resolve in and out of the classroom. This can make it hard for a particular child to get the attention they need and subtle problems often fly under the radar. Make sure to keep an open channel of communication with school staff and teachers. In fact, when parents communicate with teachers, research shows better educational and emotional outcomes for kids.
4. Model mental health and mindfulness
As noted in the classic book “The Road Less Traveled” by psychiatrist M Scott Peck, “If a child sees his parents day in and day out behaving with self-discipline, restraint, dignity and a capacity to order their own lives, then the child will come to feel in the deepest fibers of his being that this is the way to live.” (p.21) Kids who grow up with healthy, balanced parents as role models tend to develop healthy, balanced behaviors too. That’s why it is so important to set an example. Eating well, exercising regularly, and dealing in a healthy way with your emotions are all ways to model good mental health. Mindfulness is also a powerful tool for mental health. It teaches you to understand and accept your thoughts and feelings, which helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Anxiety about going back to school after COVID 2022: Don’t ignore it
Back-to-school anxiety has always been around, but this year, the situation is different. Children, teens, and even college-age students are apprehensive about returning to “normal”. For these young people, school represents academic pressure, unknown social situations, and heightened anxiety that can have a big impact on children’s health and the mental health of our youth. So parents, be aware, attentive, and communicative with your kids and their teachers. And above all, be a healthy, positive role model. This is the best antidote to school anxiety.