Ways Parents Can Help Anxious Kids With Returning To An In-Person Classroom
Returning to the classroom after the summer break can be an anxiety-provoking transition for students. Specifically, as students transition to school amidst the nation’s recovery from COVID19. To date, a strong majority of individuals have received vaccinations. Though the news is positive, students are still at risk of contracting COVID19. This reading is not aimed to invoke fear, instead, it’s presented to support parents with tools that can help their kids with returning to the in-person classroom.
The more prepared our kids are, the better they will be with feeling confident in the classroom and addressing the transition back to school. Parents everywhere connect with a similar concern. That of desiring to learn how to support their kids with the upcoming transition to the in-person classroom.
As a father of a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old, I find myself thinking about what school will be like for them. I have not experienced the academic challenges that they have lived through. I have never had to wear a mask during my K-12 experience or to maintain a 6-foot distance from my school peers. Yet, my kids have. Looking back, my typical challenges of school were enough without having to add COVID19. The typical challenges of peer pressure, keeping up with homework, and the upcoming tests.
As I write this article, I find myself struggling to find the words that can be of help. I’m digging into my toolbox of clinical exercises and pulling from life experiences. Yet, what my kids are going through is new. It is an experience that will push them to face the typical challenges a student encounters during K-12 in addition to the aftermath of COVID19.
The 10 strategies below aim to extend beyond standard advice.
I hope that from the 10 you can connect to at least one that can be of support for your child. Each of the strategies works to support your child with reducing the severity of their anxiety and aiding them to have a healthy transition when returning to the in-person classroom.
Taking time to understand your child’s anxiety.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines anxiety disorder with the symptoms below. As you read over each symptom, take time to explore how it connects to your anxious child.
- Problems focusing on school subjects.
- Difficulty with making decisions. Such as when your child has homework to do and struggles to establish a starting point.
- Problems sleeping due to late-night worry thoughts about problems that took place in the current day or about tomorrow.
- Irregular changes in appetite, such as when your child overeats or doesn’t eat when feeling worried or on edge.
- Feeling worried more days than not.
- Fear of something bad happening such as your child sharing that they are fearful of contracting COVID19.
The purpose of the symptoms listed above is to give you space to learn more about your child’s anxiety. Building self-awareness will help to increase your ability to identify how your child is doing.
For me, I notice that when my daughter is anxious her stomach will hurt. She will say, “my stomach hurts, daddy” or “I don’t feel good”. I try to take time to hear her and give her space to share how she is feeling. From that point, we work together to connect the symptom of her stomach hurting to the variable provoking it. This process helps her understand her anxiety and as a parent, it helps me to be present for her.
I want you to think about this narrative. You are 10 years old and for your entire life, you have connected with others on a physical level. Everything from a handshake to whispering cool secrets in the ears of your friends during recess at school. You eagerly wait for lunch at school because it’s the one time that you can sit close to your friends, play paper rock scissors, and share stories. All of a sudden you are asked to wear a mask. To maintain a 6-foot distance. To stop whispering funny or cool secrets. To do air hugs.
Parents can take time to understand that returning to the in-person classroom can be challenging for kids. The challenge can come in the form of kids fearing to contract COVID19 to the typical struggles of making friends and getting good grades. Parents can practice compassion by giving their kids space to talk about their experiences at school.
For instance, if your child shares nervousness with starting school, take time to give them space to talk about what took place from their perspective versus right away jumping to provide your child with feedback. As your child shares their perspective, use eye contact and provide kindness generously. This simple practice helps parents learn to provide compassion and in addition give their kids a safe space to talk about their feelings. The act further increases the likelihood that kids continue to share thoughts and feelings with their parents in the future.
Find space to check in with each other.
People are creatures of habits. Some habits are healthy while others are not so much. Take time to develop the habit of checking in with your child as a way to develop a strong relationship and to support their return to school.
Below is a system that you can utilize to check in with your child:
Each day take 5 minutes to check in with your child. 5 minutes is not supposed to sound like a long time, which kids typically love. During the 5 minutes go through a list of questions. If you get through them all great if not, that’s okay.
Questions to explore:
- What was the best part of your day?
- What was the most challenging thing about today?
- Who did you play with today?
- Which subject was easy or hard today?
This practice helps your child build on the habit of learning to share their thoughts and feelings versus bottling them up or avoiding them. Over time, your child with continue to strengthen in this area, and before you know it 5-minutes will grow to longer periods of communication.
Educating your child on their resources
Take time to educate your child on the resources available to them at school. I remember my wife and me, taking our daughter to open house day for kindergarten. We walked up and down the hallways of the school peeking into different rooms. We talked about the role of the professionals in the school. We talked about the role of the principal, teachers, office administrators, and school counselors. I did this to help her feel confident in her new environment and to know how those around her could be of help.
With your child take time to introduce them to professionals at school such as the school counselor or psychologist. Even if this means that you set up a structured meeting. Use this time to ask questions and establish a meet and greet.
What takes place is that your child will begin to develop trust and rapport with the professionals in the school. As trust and rapport strengthen, your child will feel more comfortable with sharing their ups and downs.
Understand your child’s needs.
Take time to consider the needs of your child and how those needs have shifted since COVID19. During this time work to identify if your child needs certain accommodations with their transition back to the in-person classroom. You can identify the answer by communicating with them.
Below are questions to explore:
- Do you feel that you need any specific help from your teacher when you start school?
- Do you think that going back to an in-person classroom will be challenging for you?
- What can make learning easier for you when you go back to the in-person classroom?
- How can we help you at home with school when you start?
Hold space for growth
How do you help your child grow?
Parents can utilize board games as a system for growth. Board games allow space for winning, losing, patience, respect, and other key practices that can help your child transition to the in-person classroom effectively. Taking time to play the game monopoly can be fun and provide your child with space to create immense growth.
Playing the game of monopoly can teach your child to:
- Learn to practice decision-making as you take turns.
- Manage money.
- Learn to practice patience by waiting your turn.
- Learn to be respectful of the rules.
- Learn to play physically closer to others.
- Share materials in the game such as cards or dice.
Monopoly is just one game. There are many others. Your child in school will have space aimed to push their skills of patience, respect, decision making, and competition. At home, you can utilize games to help your child develop the very skills they will use at school. Overall, this practice helps your child grow in certain skills and transition smoothly to the in-person classroom.
Praising your child.
Kids typically like candy, right?
Heck, I love candy too.
Here is what candy basically does without going too deep. Candy gives kids a quick spurt of energy to do the next thing on their list. As a side note, I am aware of the negatives of sugar. For the sake of this article, let’s keep it simple and focus on candy giving your child a quick spurt of energy.
Praise is kind of like candy. Of course, much healthier. Praise when given correctly, can help your child build confidence, heal, and grow healthily.
Praise can come in the form of providing your child with positive feedback for their actions or behaviors. Praise can come in the form of, “I’m so proud of you for getting back into the flow of school. I’m sure that it’s a challenge to go from seeing your class on a video screen to face to face.”
When your child receives praise, it’s like feeding the reward part of the brain its’ favorite food. Ample research shows that praising helps to reinforce positive behaviors. Simply meaning that when you praise your child, there is a strong chance that your child will continue to engage in similar positive behaviors.
Ways to praise your child:
- Leave them a note in their lunch box sharing one positive action you have seen.
- Work to be specific to what you are praising. For instance, praise your child on completing their homework versus a general, I’m proud of you statement.
- Describe the action or behavior you are praising so that your child can build a connection between the behavior and praise.
- Avoid comparison praise. This can take place when you are praising one child in connection to their sibling. For instance, avoid the following. “can’t you go to school without worrying that you’ll get the virus? Your brother can do it.”
- Avoid over-praising. This takes place when there is repetitive praise over a singular action. Such as praising your child for saying thank you, over and over. What can take place is that the praise can lose its impact.
Practice Journal Writing Together
When it comes to therapy, journal writing is one of the most utilized practices. Simple because it’s awesome!
Keeping a journal can help your child have a safe space to put down their thoughts, feelings, and everyday experiences. To support your child with anxiety as they transition to the in-person classroom, you can utilize a shared journal. This is a little different than an individual journal.
The shared journal works to give you and your child space to connect in a manner that reduces stress. What often takes place is that out loud conversations can be more difficult than the quiet ones that happen behind text messages or in this case a journal.
Ways journal writing can help your child with anxiety:
- Reduce stress brought on by the day.
- Focus on what’s important.
- Write down goals.
- Write down difficult moments that are easier to write than to say out loud.
- Draw how they are feeling.
Check out the journal below CLICK HERE
How to start the journal activity:
Start with a blank journal that you can find at your typical store such as Target. Share with your child that you want to start a journal focused on the day-to-day things that take place in life between you and your child’s daily experiences.
You can share an example to help your child understand the concept. For instance, “you can write down the most exciting thing that happened to you at school. And I can write you back in the journal. And we basically can keep doing that each day.”
What typically takes place is that the journal becomes this sacred safe space for you and your child. A space that opens the door to positive and challenging experiences. At times anxiety symptoms may come up. You can use this space to help your child tame anxiety. Working with a counselor is a great way to learn more about using therapy journals.
Practice yoga together.
The mental health symptoms that we experience show up physically. Think about what happens to your body when you feel stressed? Some people when experiencing stress will feel the tension in their shoulders, an upset stomach, or a headache that causes difficulty when trying to concentrate.
To help your child with retuning to the in-person classroom, you can encourage them to start yoga. Or together both can take on yoga. Yoga can help your child build strength in self-awareness. The practice of self-awareness helps to train the mind in understanding how thoughts, feelings, and day-to-day interactions impact a person. For instance, yoga can help your child get to know their body and understand how a trigger such as walking into the classroom can lead to feeling anxious. The anxious feeling shows up as a headache. From this point, your child can use varying yoga practices to address the tension of the headache. One common practice is that of deep breathing.
Benefits of practicing yoga include:
- Stress reduction.
- Improvement in understanding what provokes bad feelings.
- Understanding and managing pain. For instance, your child can use yoga to help reduce the pain that comes with anxiety. Such as the tension in the head from a headache can be supported with the practice of yoga.
- Ability to connect to a community. Such as joining a yoga club in your area. This is a great way for your child to develop friendships and establish a support system.
Get started with a yoga mat.
Help your child learn to say “No”
As your child transitions back to the in-person classroom take time to support the child in understanding boundaries and the practice of saying “no”. The in-person classroom will differ from the virtual classroom and as such your child may be asked to do certain things that they are not comfortable with.
It’s important to remember just how long it’s been since your child has been removed from the in-person classroom. Jumping back in may take some time. I like to think of this as my daughters’ transition to kindergarten from pre-k. She cried her first day and felt nervous. It took her a few days to build comfort.
Taking time before the start of school to develop education and skill in building boundaries, can support your child with learning to share their thoughts and feelings when in the classroom. For instance, if your child is asked to participate in an activity that requires close physical distance from their peers and your child is uncomfortable. Would they have the skills to say “no” or to express their level of comfort?
Learning to say no and to share their thoughts and feelings can directly help them feel comfortable in the classroom and directly lower their anxiety.
A great way to think about boundaries is with the idea of you being a house. Your house has a door. You get to decide what you let into your house and what you do not want inside your house. What you let in serves you. What you do not let in, does not serve you.
Teaching your child about boundaries can help with:
- Learning to have a “voice” and feel empowered.
- Creating new self-care skills.
- Creating healthy boundaries.
- Being in spaces where you feel safe.
Below are questions to ask your child that can help with developing an understanding of their boundaries.
- What are things that make you feel comfortable versus uncomfortable?
- What are your physical boundaries?
As you walk away from this reading, I hope that you take with you the skill of awareness in taking time to prepare for the upcoming school year. Great kids have awesome parents. Be an awesome parent by taking time to connect with your child and providing them with the necessary tools and support to successfully transition to an in-person classroom. If you get stuck, consider taking time to meet with a local counselor. Use this space to ask questions, create goals, and develop a plan to heal and recover as you move forward in life.
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. This is a great book for parents that need simple and effective strategies aimed to support in addressing challenges. The author teaches readers how to parent their child in ways that address anxiety, anger, and other challenges in life. CLICK HERE to learn more about the book.
A weighted blanket is a wonderful resource to support with managing emotions and addressing negative physical symptoms. Consider if you are experiencing restlessness, muscle tension, or feeling overwhelmed. Using a weighted blanket can support relief and reduce negative or unwanted symptoms. CLICK HERE to learn more about the weighted blanket.