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Back to School during COVID-19: Tips from a Horizon social worker to help your student manage stress and anxiety

Back to school is here and it looks different than years' past. Not only have students been out of the classroom for more than five months, but there are new policies in place to keep everyone safe. This can lead to an increase in stress, anxiety and worry for children, parents, step-parents and guardians.

Here, Carly Furlong, a Horizon social worker with the Child and Youth Team of the Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) program in the Moncton area, provides tips around stress and worry to help you prepare students for their return to school.

Back to School Social Workers

HOW CAN I HELP A CHILD WHO IS WORRIED ABOUT RETURNING TO SCHOOL?

Normalize how your child is feeling

Let them know they are not alone. Everyone is in the same boat this coming school year - students of all ages, teachers, bus drivers, even principals. This is new for everyone, and everyone is going to have some worries and adjustments to make. These feelings are OK!

Try saying:  I bet a lot of kids are feeling this way, tooorI would feel that way as well if I were youorOf course you'd feel that way given the circumstances.

Validate how your child is feeling

Not only are their feelings normal, but they are recognized, valid, and important. Feelings aren't good or bad, they just are. You can help by listening, offering support, checking in regularly to monitor their feelings.

Try saying:  I can see that you're feeling worried, it makes sense that you're nervous, I see why you feel anxious about riding the bus,orIt's totally OK to feel frustrated that your best school friend is not in your bubble.

Because these feelings are valid, you want to offer help. Ask your child what you can do to help them or what they need from you. But remember, as much as you want to fix things as a parent, this is not about fixing feelings! Let them feel their feelings.

Focus on what you can control

Students will have so little control in how their school year is going to look, so incorporating as much choice as possible can be very comforting.

Something as simple as letting them choose what's in their lunch or what clothes they wear can go a long way. And be prepared, because allowing your child more choice is going to mean more flexibility and maybe less choice on the part of their parents and caregivers.

Students may not be able to control what time the bus picks them up, but they can go to bed early to control how much sleep they get. They may not be able to control who is in their class bubble, but they can control how often they video-chat friends after school. 

WHAT ARE SOME TECHNIQUES FOR HELPING MY CHILD DEAL WITH STRESS?

Back to School Social Worker 1

Stress is a normal and healthy part of life. It motivates us to make changes and solve problems. However, there are some negative symptoms of stress, and it's those symptoms we want to manage.

You can promote stress management with your child in the following ways:

  • Talk about problems, even if they won't be solved. Talking about our stress and feelings helps to relieve tension.
  • Help them prioritize. Treat the big things big but keep the little things little by accepting the small stresses in life, and problem solving around the big stresses.
  • Focus on basic healthy behaviours. You can battle the negative effects of stress by taking care of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and leisure time.
  • Help your child balance their time. They need a balance between school, family, alone, and social time. No one area of life should be taking up too much space.
  • Model good stress management. The best way to promote a behaviour with children is to show it in yourself. You cannot expect children to practice stress management if the adult at home is not displaying that behaviour themselves.

We hope these tips will help you navigate the return to school and manage the stress and anxiety your children may experience.

Good luck to all the parents, step-parents and guardians preparing their children for back to school! You can do it!