(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – The upcoming school year comes with many unknowns as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, from whether learning will be virtual or in-person to how schools will implement safety protocols and mask policies. While this presents uncertainty and anxiety for students, parents are also worried about how they can help their children cope with these changes and adapt to whatever the school year will look like.
“It’s OK that you don’t have all the answers,” said Parker Huston, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion and clinical director of the On Our Sleeves movement. “Simply talking about your child’s feelings and concerns while also listening to what they’re looking forward to this school year can start an important ongoing dialogue that makes them more likely to reach out for help if they’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.”
A new national survey by Nationwide Children’s Hospital finds 90 percent of parents have concerns about the upcoming school year, with about two in five worried about their child’s emotional health, nearly the same rate as concerns about physical health, such as exposure to germs and the risk of bringing COVID-19 home with them.
“A little prep before the school year starts can go a long way and help kids mentally prepare, whether they’ll be learning at school, at home or a combination of the two,” said Samanta Boddapati, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Nationwide Children’s specializing in school programming. “Where possible, creating a structured environment similar to what they experience during a normal school day, with scheduled times for learning and play, will help them make a smooth transition as classes resume.”
Boddapati says it’s also a good idea to have regular bedtimes and meal times and to practice parts of your child’s school routine, like walking to the bus stop. You can also normalize new things they might experience this school year, like wearing masks and practicing social distancing, so they are not foreign concepts when students re-enter the classroom. Younger children may also struggle with separation anxiety after so many months at home with their parents. Experts suggest trying to avoid emotional goodbyes to let kids know that being apart for school is normal and that you will be back together soon.
If you notice persistent changes in your child’s behavior, such as withdrawal, lack of interest or changes to their sleep pattern, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. OnOurSleeves.org offers extensive resources to help parents recognize these changes, start the conversation about mental health and find providers in their area.