Communication, practicing health measures at home can help children with back-to-school fears, experts say

By | September 7, 2020

TORONTO — While returning to school can be exciting, it can also be nerve-wracking for some children, especially during a pandemic.

Eleven-year-old Zion Shadd admits he is worried about returning to class to begin Grade 6 in the COVID-19 era.

“I don’t want to get coronavirus,” Shadd said in an interview with CTV News. “It’s like everything’s changed and completely different.”

Halifax high school student Jenna Kedy says she is also concerned about returning to school and wonders how the student body will be able to adhere to public health restrictions while in the classroom.

“In high school we’re all in different classes so I’m worried how that’s going to work with the bubble situation,” Kedy said.

Given the uncertainty of how students are set to return to class, children face a whole host of new potential stressors, and navigating them as a parent can be difficult.

With the return to school, children will have to adjust to new coronavirus norms in the classroom including physical distancing, mask-wearing and, in some provinces, teachers dressed in personal protective equipment.

However, experts say there are ways parents can help their child manage back-to-school jitters by looking out for early signs of growing anxiety.

“Younger kids may get more clingy, more tearful whereas teenagers may get more irritable and snappish,” child psychologist Ann Marie Joyce explained.

If something seems off with a child, Joyce said it is best for the family to address the problem directly.

Experts also say that parents need confront their own anxieties first so they can demonstrate a sense of calm for their kids.

Child, youth and family therapist Tania Dasilva suggests families hold weekly meetings ahead of school and during the first few weeks to talk about any COVID-19 concerns the children may have.

“If our kids are worrying about something throughout the week they know there will be a time and place to address this together,” Dasilva said.

Other coping strategies include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, limiting screen time and visiting the school grounds beforehand to familiarize children with the facilities.

Another way to help ease fears is to have children focus on what they can control, such as their personal hygiene.

Dr. Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist in Vancouver, told CTV News that a child should be an expert in handwashing before returning to the classroom.

“Practise handwashing. You have heard it a million times before, let’s do it for two minutes before school starts,” Kang said. “Make sure [your] child is a master.”

Washing one’s hands may seem like a simple task, but he says practicing at home can help children understand the importance of doing so while at school.

Kang said another mandate that parents should continue to rehearse with children is the proper use of a face mask.

“Wearing a mask… That isn’t easy for many kids. Many have anxiety about it so practise it,” Kang said.

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