How to help your child manage COVID-19 anxiety

September 14, 2021

Going back to school comes with many emotions, perhaps no more so than this year, as children return to the classroom after more than a year spent learning from home due to the pandemic.

With this year’s back-to-school season underway, your child may be experiencing anything from excitement to anxiety as they settle into their new learning environments. Nisa (Iliniza) Baty, Venice Family Clinic’s director of behavioral health, offers some tips on managing that transition back to in-person learning.

1. Plan ahead

“Anxiety thrives on uncertainty, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been filled with it,” Baty said. “Do things that are in your control so your child feels like there’s a plan in case of an outbreak at school.”

If you haven’t already done so, Baty recommends learning as much as possible about your child’s school’s COVID-19 safety protocols, such as testing, screening, masking, and seating and lunchtime arrangements. Encourage your child to come up with their own safety routines that include hand washing and sanitizing, mask wearing and handling, and what to do when they come home every day, particularly if there are vulnerable family members living in the house. Find out what the school’s plans are for keeping your child caught up with schoolwork in case they need to isolate at home. If there is a routine or process that isn’t working well for your child at home or school, work with them to find ways to adjust. For example, your child may need to run around for a while after school before doing homework. Or they may need a little extra encouragement to complete tasks, so developing a system of small rewards or celebrations can help.

2. Communicate openly with your child

Talking to your child is always important, but it is especially key to helping them deal with any stress they may feel going back to school this year. Baty says that being honest and encouraging about this transition, by regularly asking your child how they’re feeling, what they’re learning, and what they’re excited about, proud of or surprised by, can help children feel supported and provide a foundation for them to tackle any difficulties they may face. Acknowledging your own associated mix of emotions, and accomplishments or challenges, can also feel validating.

“Even if things change, regular communication between family members will support healthy planning and coping,” Baty said.

3. Celebrate milestones

Many families mark the first day of the school year with their children as a special event, but recognizing the uniqueness of this particular school year could help create a sense of structure and support for your child.

“Acknowledging even the smallest achievements or highlights from your child’s day at school can be important to helping them feel more content with their new situation,” Baty said. “That first week or month back in the classroom, learning something new in class, or making a new friend will feel more significant in your child’s life right now, so finding a way to recognize that can go a long way.”

4. Take time to relax and share affection

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created stress for everyone, and making time to practice self-care as a family will help you feel grounded as a group and as individuals,” Baty said.

She recommends engaging in some anxiety-reducing strategies together, such as breathing deeply, mindfulness techniques, playing games, exercise, dancing, listening to music or drawing.
And remember to tell your children that you love them and are proud of them, Baty said.
“This strengthens bonds and shores up children’s resiliency,” she said. “Give hugs, pats on the back or other gestures of affection. These make a huge difference in calming anxiety and increasing a sense of connection and well-being.”