Back to School Anxiety. Is it affecting your family?
One of the biggest discussions happening right now for families all over the country is the back to school debate. Do I send my child back to school or not? For some families, the decision may be very easy to make but for others there will be lots of factors to consider. Can I afford not to go back to work? Who will look after my children if I go back to work? What if coronavirus is still around in September - do I still keep my child home from school? Do I give them a vaccination if one becomes available? Will my child cope with how different school life will be? Will they be in a class with their friends? Will they remember to social distance? All of these thoughts can lead to feelings of anxiety.
There are lots of different conversations happening with parents surrounding the current pandemic and children going back to school. You have parents worrying about coronavirus and if it's safe to send their children back. Consciously they may want to or more importantly need to as they have to return to work but subconsciously it may not feel right for them to send their child back and this can create a lot of anxiety.
I have had parents contacting me who feel anxious about their child coping in a different environment. Will they feel scared about having to social distance when they are very young like Year R for example. Classes will be split so some children may not be with their friends and may have a different teacher.
One good thing to remember is that children are very adaptable. A lot of the time these are our anxieties and not those of our children. Children adapt extremely well and if they see us handling a stressful situation calmly and confidently, they are more likely to do so as well.
I have also had conversations with some parents and it has become apparent that they haven't explained what's going on to their children as they have assumed that they may be too young to understand. So these children stopped going to nursery/pre school, were unable to see their grandparents and they didn't know why. This can lead to problems such as regression, bad behaviour and anxiety. Always use age appropriate honesty with children no matter how young they are. I often advise parents how they can explain coronavirus in an age appropriate way to their children.
Parents may face questions from their children such as, "Why is my brother going back to school and not me?". Again it goes back to age appropriate honesty. Explain the schools plan to your child and that their classmates will also be remaining at home and then you can look for the positives in the given situation. A positive could be that you have weeks together of just you and them time. What's their favourite thing to do with you? If you have two children of school age, it's unlikely you will have this chance ever again to be able to focus and bond with just one of your children.
It's not just adults that can have anxiety around the back to school decision. Children have also been affected by this pandemic in many ways. Separation anxiety has been around long before coronavirus and for those children who struggle going back to school after a weekend or a school half term, this is going to be the longest they have ever had off school. Some children will have 6 months off school or maybe even more and for those children, they may struggle not being in the family home with their parents when they have to return to school.
Children can also have general anxiety around seeing friends for the first time in a while. For the anxious child or children who suffer with general anxiety disorder, a change in routine as big as this in the middle of a crisis is a really big deal. These children really benefit from being taught coping techniques to manage their anxiety.
Some children have anxiety around how the school may be different and is it safe? Some may feel anxious about just going out and about again in general. To be told that you have to stop going to school because it's not safe and then 10 weeks later be told that you're going back to school can be daunting.
Coronavirus has also caused disruption to children's routine. Without routine we can go to bed later, eat more sugar and both of these things are well known to affect our anxiety. Most children thrive on routine. Their behaviour is better when they know what is expected of them and when. So when that's taken away from them, there can be some disruption until a new temporary routine is established.
Children who have seen their parents cope well in this crisis will have taken a good lesson from this on how to cope when things go wrong in life or not as planned. Children who's parents have not coped as well as they may of liked or got stuck in one of the cycles of grief, may feel very unsettled at this time. Remember, children model our behaviour and look to us for reassurance. For this reason, its always good to work on your own anxiety where necessary. If your child is very unsettled at this time, ask yourself what your own thoughts and feelings are.
Most schools have been very supportive and checking in on their pupils, giving advice where they can. Unfortunately mental health services had to stop working face to face with children. This also included myself not being able to support my clients on a face to face basis. However, for older children that can keep their focus over a telephone, video or Zoom call, there is still help available and I have run a number of individual and group sessions using these channels.
The following are mental health charities which can offer free support:
YOUNG MINDS CRISIS MESSENGER
LOCAL YOUTH COUNSELLING SERVICE
I would like to wish all children and parents a smooth transition back to school by adapting to the new normal, whether they are returning next month or next year.
Karen Marie Wells
A Calm Kids Coach specialising in childhood anxiety.