- Talk About It
Validate all feelings. Children might feel sad, disappointed, frustrated, as well as excited, happy, bored. Their feelings might change throughout the day and might be conflicting. All these feelings are OK. Listen and allow a child to express feelings without dismissing or trying to “fix” and negative feelings that they express. Help children to find positive ways to express difficult emotions. Also, allow positive feelings and try not to question these. Some children are doing well. (See: https://www-huffpost-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.huffpost.com/entry/help-kid-cope-back-to-school_l_5f329ca9c5b64cc99fde5586/amp).
2. Manage Worry and Expectations
Listen to concerns calmly and respond with kindness. Show Empathy and Understanding. Focus on PRACTICAL vs HYPOTHETICAL WORRIES. It is ok to acknowledge risks. Create an action plan for how to reduce worries. Limit “what if” discussions that focus on extreme negative outcomes that are not likely.
Be careful not to make general reassurance statements (e.g., “everything will be OK, you have nothing to worry about"). No one can predict the future or give this guarantee. These types of statements minimize feelings and make children feel their concerns are not valid. Rather, focus on what is in your control. Discuss how schools are taking precautions and how students can minimize risk (distancing, hand washing, masking).
Practice Relaxation Strategies. Do slow calm breathing with your child/teen daily Practice with a mask on if a child is returning to school. Have time to just relax and reset at the end of the day. in through the nose, out through the mouth with a longer exhale. Finally, Monitor signs for stress and anxiety. (See https://parentsupportduringcovid19.com for more relaxation techniques including Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Guided Imagery and Grounding).
Try the STOP Technique:
S (Scared) What is going on in your body?
T (Thoughts) What are you thinking?
O (Other thoughts) What is something else you can think?
P (Praise & Plan) What is something nice to say to yourself? What can you do next time? What is good? What can you control? What can you control? What is good in new routine?
3. Problem Solve and Prepare
Discuss the plan for school days. Encourage proactively talking about potential problems and issues. Identify what worked and what did not work well last spring (particularly if online learning was challenging). Ask your child/teen, “how can we make this a better experience?” and come up with specific changes to try.
Problem solve together. Listen and consider all suggestions. Don’t immediately dismiss what is said. Offer your own practical suggestions for change. Evaluate and point out what is working and make changes as needed. Troubleshoot together. This will help children feel some control and practice coming up with ideas and changes to make learning work better. Monitor stress (for you and your child). Remember the big picture, children learn best when calm and emotionally regulated. This is an unusual time and everyone needs more compassion.
Role play or rehearse potentially stressful situations (e.g., what to say when someone gets too close at school, technology issues, how to express frustrations or ask for breaks). Practicing how to handle potentially difficult or upsetting situations will help you and your child stay calm. Come up with a notecard of calming options when a child starts to get frustrated or visual cue to ask for a break. Talk about what might happen, there will be difficult moments and new challenges. Talking about it and identifying what to do before a problem occurs will also build problem solving and emotion regulation skills so that everyone can better manage challenging moments. (See also: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/kids-covid-19/art-20482508).
4. Set Your Child Up for Success
Schedule and Routines. Establish a schedule together for work and relaxation time. Schedules provides structure and predictability (make simple visual schedule with built in “down time”/free choice times). Create and maintain consistent morning routine and bedtime routine. Keep these as consistent as possible. Consistency and predictability help reduce anxiety. Use visual schedules or checklists to promote independence.
Adequate sleep, good nutrition, and exercise daily are important for health and absolutely protective during stressful times. (See also
Keep online activity safe. Check that your child’s device has the privacy settings are on. Keep webcams covered when not in use and set parental controls, including safe search. Use a common area or check in when you can. Encourage children to be kind and respectful to classmates and to tell you about any bullying or inappropriate contact or interactions. See Tips and Scripts for Managing Screen Time When School Is Online at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/tips-and-scripts-for-managing-screen-time-when-school-is-online-0.
Model Resiliency and Healthy Coping. Be careful what you say. How you talk about school sets the tone. Be aware about the impact of complaining about your frustration and concerns in front of your children. Rather than complaining and venting in front of your child, acknowledge their feelings and help them look for some positive, alternative ways to view their situation. Use “and” rather than “but” to accept both thoughts (e.g., “you feel __because __, but you get to ___). Practice deep breathing to calm the nervous system and relaxation strategies daily. (See https://childmind.org/article/how-to-avoid-passing-anxiety-on-to-your-kids/).
Remember how you handle your anxiety, your own stress, and how you act throughout the day will strongly influence how children react and think about their own situation. Take breaks when you are able, even short breaks to calm or self-care, so you can connect, be present, and enjoy positive moments with your child during each day.
As much as possible, children need to feel safe, secure and positive about their current circumstance and the future. Even in a pandemic. Please seek support from schools, your pediatrician, or a therapist if you or your child are struggling or you need more strategies to manage anxiety or learning. Please contact us if you need more support or help.