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Addressing your child's back-to-school nerves during COVID-19

By Brianne McCarthy, Tufts Children’s Hospital Staff

By now, most school-age children have returned to their scheduled learning. This could mean they are in the classroom, fully remote learning at home or a hybrid of both. Some children may be feeling anxious or worried about all of the change that they are seeing with school due to COVID-19. Robert Sege, MD, PhD, Tufts Children’s Hospital Director of the Center for Community-Engaged Medicine, answers your questions about the feelings children who are in the classroom may be experiencing.

We’ve been teaching our child about social distancing, and now they are worried about being at school with so many people. What’s the best way to explain that school will be safe?

Schools are only opening after they have met strict safety precautions, and our governor has been careful in making sure everyone is safe. It is important for children to be in school, to learn with the other students and their teachers!

For parents – experience around the world has shown that children are safe in school, as long as the kinds of precautions the state recommends are in effect. On the other hand, children appear to fall behind in their normal development when they are not in school for prolonged periods. That said, no one knows what will happen. If some of the worst predictions about a second wave come true, schools may have to return to remote learning only. School children will have an easier time staying connected to school if they have had a chance to meet their classmates and teachers in person first.

My child is nervous about everyone needing to wear a face covering at school. How can I help them feel at ease with this?

First, acknowledge how difficult and often uncomfortable it feels to wear a face covering at school. Once you have acknowledged that these feelings are valid, remind them we all need to wear face coverings to protect one another. After listening to your child, see if there is a way to problem-solve around their specific complaints: maybe a nose wire or spray can help with foggy glasses, or purchasing/making a face covering that is based on their favorite character or superhero to make face coverings more fun. Taking their concerns seriously can make them feel less helpless. 

How can I encourage my child to follow COVID-19 precautions when I am not around to remind them?

This is a great question! This question applies to so much of what goes on at school (or anywhere else outside of the home). Tell your children that they are expected to follow the COVID-19 safety rules and trust that the school will help keep them safe. Public health safety adds yet another concern to the long list of parental worries: will children be safe on the playground? Eat the right food at lunch? Wear their sweaters when the weather turns cold? Parents can help their children cope by trusting the school to adhere to safety guidelines and enforce the rules.  When you talk with your children about their day at school, you can also ask about face covering-wearing and social distancing. 

What emotional reactions should I look for in my child as they return to school?

Many children will be excited to return to school and see their classmates and teachers. In general, kids love to learn, and the social isolation since March has been hard for them. Parents should expect their children to have the usual first day of school of jitters – new teachers, new classmates, and new expectations as they grow older can be daunting, and most children approach the new school year with a good dose of nervousness.

Once they return to school, children will experience smaller classes, as well as social distancing rules in the classroom, at lunch, and at recess. Children may find these rules confusing, especially at first. Parents can begin to help their children simply by hearing them out, and then helping them understand how they can cope with these new situations.

Many pediatricians have seen an increase in the number of children with anxiety and depression since the beginning of the pandemic.  Parents who are concerned about their child’s adjustment to school should call their child’s pediatrician for advice or to schedule an appointment to better assess what might help.

What can I do to help my child through this difficult time?

Remind your child, every day, that they bring joy, and that they are valued members of society. Unfortunately, the negative publicity about school and college openings may make them feel that they are a burden for their parents, the community, and the economy. Whatever their reactions to the situation, children are not to blame for the situation we are in!

To learn more, read the HOPE blog post on 10 Ways to Create Positive Childhood Experiences. 

 

Posted October 2020 

The above content is provided for general educational purposes by Tufts Medical Center. Unedited copies of the article may be copied and distributed for the purpose of educating the public. For information about your own health, contact your physician.