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Back to School During the Pandemic: Calming Your Child’s Fears

August 24, 2020 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

Many kids and parents are feeling more anxious and stressed at this time. Here are some tips that can help.

There are so many options out there for school openings this year. Many schools are closed and are operating virtually, some are using blended learning, staggering days and having both virtual and in person options. Some are just opening with social distancing practices in place.

Many kids and parents are feeling more anxious and stressed at this time. Here are some tips that can help.

1. Stay Calm:

This isn’t so simple to do. There are a lot of real fears and concerns that we are all experiencing. However, we need to stay calm for our kids' sake. Kids feel it when we are anxious. If we are stressed, they will feel stressed. Make sure to take time for yourself, doing something that you enjoy doing, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Guide your children to find things that they enjoy as well. Hobbies are a known stress reliever. Do some fun exercises together; turn up the music and dance around the living room.

Make calm a priority in your home.

2. Build a Resilient Mindset:

People do not like uncertainty. We like to know what we are up against. However, life is full of unknowns. Dealing with unpredictable circumstances builds resilience. It often forces us to use strengths we never knew we had. Learning that you can manage the ups and downs of life builds coping skills. It lets you know that you can deal with whatever life throws you. Knowing this makes you feel less anxious.

Let your kids know: “Things are uncertain right now, but being uncertain is not necessarily bad. Sometimes, it forces you to learn new things and be strong.”

Furthermore, resilient families know that they will have difficult times but that they can work together to get through them. Again, having this type of attitude promotes calm in both parents and children. We want to make sure to say things like: “This is a tough time; however, we are a strong family and we will get through this!”

3. Don’t talk bad about policies in front of your kids:

Everyone seems confused about our government policy and our school’s policy as well. Nothing seems to make sense. It is important not to air your grievances, frustrations and confusion to your kids.

“No one knows what they are doing!”
“This is terrible time and dangerous!”
“They don’t even know if masks really help!”

These complaints can add to your child’s stress level, making them feel all the more anxious. Our attitude needs to be one of cooperation and the basic idea that everyone, that means our government and schools, are doing the best that they can under the circumstances.

We can say:

“The doctors are working so hard! They are using all the information that they have so far to make sure we are all safe.”
“This is a tough time, a lot of unknowns. We will do the best we can to keep our family safe.”
“Doctors are unsure about many things. Most believe that handwashing and mask wearing the best way to keep ourselves safe. That will be our family’s policy.”
“I went to the supermarket today. Everyone is wearing masks. Everyone is trying their best to follow the rules and keep themselves and their friends safe.”

4. Good Hygiene:

Practically speaking, kids feel less anxious when they have some control over any given situation. Teaching kids what they can do to help keep themselves and their family healthy can help keep them calm.

For younger kids, make handwashing fun. You can sing along with their favorite song or do a dance together. Show them the best way to cover a cough or a sneeze.

You can teach them that germs are invisible; when children understand why they need to wash their hands, they are more likely to comply.

For older kids, you can follow the latest medical information along with them, discussing the science behind disease control. Being armed with information from an accurate source and processing it with a trusted adult can help children feel more comfortable about the situation.

5. Be Open with Your Kids:

Make sure to have regular conversations with your kids about their fears and uncertainty. Schedule quiet time with each child, doing an activity they like, so that they have an opportunity to talk to you and open up if they need to.

Let them know regularly: “You know you can always talk to me if you have problems. I might not have all the answers, but I am ready to listen.”

6. Focus on the Positive:

This is really an unprecedented time. Before March, 2020, everyone was always complaining about how busy they were and how hectic life was. Now it is like time stopped. People are gardening, learning to play and instrument, baking bread and spending time with their family. Many parents have reported that their kids and they themselves are thriving. I do not want to downplay this pandemic. However, even though it is a serious and difficult time, there are silver linings. Blessings abound if we just take the time to look.

I tell my older kids, “I know you are not supposed to be home. You are supposed to be out in the world, in school and spreading your wings, but I am so happy you are here and I got to spend this time with you.”

The more you focus on the positive, the more your kids will too.

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