Plans and confusion during this back-to-school season, it is unsurprising that many students will be feeling more intense back-to-school jitters. In fact, with all the turbulence and disruption of the last school year, many more children could be feeling anxious about how this school year will go. And parents and caregivers are in the same boat.
Dr. Zubair Khan, child psychiatrist at the Montefiore School Health Program, advises that families need to have open and honest conversations ahead of the start of school, and continue these conversations often throughout the year.
“The first thing to do, which is very important, is to acknowledge that it’s going to be an unusual year,” says Dr. Khan.
According to health professionals, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many children, with heightened feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression. Everyone wants children to have the best school experience and get a quality education, while being able to cope with the challenges that will likely continue throughout the year. Dr. Khan offers these simple tips for families to keep in mind during these uncertain times:
Help kids understand what they are walking into, and reinforce that the new environment is intended to keep everyone safe and healthy.
*Explain that things may change – and that’s ok. Explain that everyone will need to be flexible and accepting.
*Maintain a schedule at home – Children thrive on a routine: make sure they are getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and getting physical activity every day.
*Manage expectations – Recognize that both children and adults may feel worried and stressed, but model positivity and reassure yourself and children that it will be ok.
*Practice and teach mindfulness techniques to help everyone cope with moments of stress or anxiety. Deep breathing exercises are easy and effective for children of all ages, as well as adults.
*If caregivers are concerned about their child’s changing behavior, consult with your pediatrician for further guidance.
Undoubtedly, the school year ahead will present challenges as children try to adjust and many families learn how to navigate teaching and working from home.
Dr. Khan reminds families to have an open mind, share feelings with each other, and trust that the guidance from teachers and schools is intended to protect children’s safety and ensure they continue to learn and develop academically.