How to Balance Heading Back to School With Ever Changing COVID-19 Guidance
Typically, heading back to school can be both exciting and anxiety provoking for many children and teens. This year, as a number of children are returning to in-person school for the first time in over a year and a half, we may see an increase in the intensity of emotions, including higher levels of anxiety, as well as increasing excitement. They may feel overjoyed to go back to the classroom, where it's easier for them to learn and they have more access to socializing with friends. On the other hand, some children and teens may be feeling anxious about what to expect going back after being away from school for so long.
While things are improving, the pandemic isn't over yet, and returning to school also means coping with rules put in place to maintain safety. Guidance is continually changing as the situation changes, which can be frustrating and upsetting for children at any age. Current guidance from the CDC recommends masks and distancing in the classroom. In New Jersey, students and staff from kindergarten to 12th grade will be required to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
Students could be feeling a range of feelings, including:
- Nerves and anxiety
As students return to school, how can you help your children to manage their emotions?
Dealing with Anger and Frustration
The rules for returning to school can certainly feel restrictive to many students. School already has a lot of rules to follow, and now they're being asked to wear masks and carry out other safety measures. This can be extremely frustrating for children and teens and even make them feel angry. Having to wear a mask at school when it may not be required elsewhere may seem very unfair, although some students might choose to wear a mask of their own accord.
One of the most important things that you can do is talk to your child about their feelings. Emphasize the importance of staying safe and the difference between being in a crowded environment such as a school, compared to other places. Let your child talk about how they feel and why they are angry and frustrated. Validate their feelings and let them know that they are being heard. It can also be helpful to give them tools to deal with their feelings, such as deep breathing and mindfulness, which may help them to reduce the intensity of their emotions.
Managing Excitement and Disappointment
With the possibility of guidance surrounding COVID-19 changing quickly, your children could be set for a roller coaster of emotions. They might start to get excited about being able to do certain things again and make plans for the future. But a change in guidance or even an unrelated cancellation or rescheduling could quickly lead to disappointment.
It might help to discuss the fact that nothing is certain and to be prepared for anything to change. However, this doesn't entirely make up for the disappointment that can occur when plans your child is looking forward to aren't able to go ahead. It can help to encourage your child to focus on the present, rather than thinking too much about the future. Mindfulness can help to teach students to stay in the moment instead of looking too far ahead. Learning how to reframe or let go of negative thoughts can be a useful strategy too.
Going back to school while things relating to COVID-19 are still uncertain is difficult. Bridge to Balance can help to navigate this transition with our therapy services for children and teens.