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We’ve made the hard decision to send our kids back to school this fall. But they’re feeling really worried about it; do you have any ideas for how we can help them?
I can certainly understand why your children would be nervous (and you as well!). Our lives over the past five months have been upturned and dominated by the threat of COVID-19, and now we’re telling them they are going back to school. Here are some strategies you can use to help everyone in the family decrease their anxiety and manage it when you can’t decrease it.
Don’t add to their worry
If we don’t want our kids to feel more worried than they already are, we need to hide from them our own frustration and anxiety about the school situation. Children are emotional sponges and will absorb whatever anxiety you are expressing. Try not to talk about your fears in front of them. Talk to your partner or a friend instead.
Be realistic but positive
I am telling my daughter, “It’s really great news that the COVID numbers are down. This means it’s safer to be back in school than it was in the spring. We also know a lot more about how the disease is transmitted now. At the same time, there is risk. Life always has some risk and uncertainty. Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.” Anxiety is the feeling that you won’t be able to cope with the scary thing. What you want to cultivate is the attitude that this is hard but we can handle it.
Identify what you can control and prepare as best you can
This might include practising wearing a mask at home for increasing lengths of time. Give your kids some fun strategies to wash their hands for 30 seconds and have them show you what a great job they can do. Depending on your child’s age, you could teach and play at the same time. Play a “Don’t Touch Your Face!” game or “Closer Than Two Metres is Hot Lava!” game.
Try an aggressive laughter regimen
Laughter is a wonderful anti-anxiety tool. It clears our bodies of stress chemicals such as cortisol and adrenalin and releases stored-up tensions. Try some play or roughhousing that gets your child laughing for 10 minutes every morning and every afternoon or evening. The sillier the better. Follow your child’s laughter by doing more of whatever gets them laughing.
Teach them to talk back to their Worry Brain
This concept is from the wonderful book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents, by Lynn Lyons and Reid Wilson. If reassurance isn’t working, it’s likely that your child has a very sensitive Worry Brain or amygdala. A sensitive amygdala is like a smoke alarm that goes off when we burn toast. We learn that we need to open the window and reset the smoke alarm rather than run out into the yard and call 911.
In this same way, we want to teach our child that excessive worry is a false alarm and that they can hear the alarm but they don’t need to act on it. They can learn to reset the amygdala’s emergency response by talking to their Worry Brain, “I hear you telling me it isn’t safe to go to school, Worry Brain. Thanks for trying to keep me safe but I can handle it.” If you find that your child is worrying excessively and it’s getting in the way of your lives, it’s a good idea to talk to your family doctor.
Also, parents need to understand that it’s okay to worry about making the wrong choice. Since none of us have a crystal ball, it’s important to remember that we are making the best decision we can with the information we have and considering the needs of our families. One thing I try to remind myself when I’m feeling stressed about our current situation is that our kids are resilient and so are we. We can handle this.
Sarah Rosensweet is a parenting coach who lives in Toronto with her husband and three children, ages 12, 15 and 18. Do you have a parenting question? Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.