School-related pressure is nothing new. However, being a student in the age of COVID-19 is an entirely new landscape.
By now, parents have the checklist for back-to-school perfected with items like hand sanitizer or face masks. It is equally as important for parents to encourage kids to pack along some coping tools for dealing with all the nuances of returning to school during a pandemic.
Teach your kids how to focus on what they can control.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), focusing on things we can control is a way to cope with pandemic stress as a student. It's possible that your child may become stressed or upset when they see some of their classmates or friends at school disobeying rules for mask-wearing or physical distancing. Explain that it is okay for your child to be upset by this. However, it's also important to emphasize that your child cannot always control the behaviors of others. Your child does have the power to control their own habits and actions.
What's more, they can also stop in the moment to take control of their thoughts and feelings. The bottom line is that there will be many things that your kid cannot control about both their immediate and global environments throughout the pandemic. The key is to help them feel comfortable with this, even though it is not ideal. Encourage them to take power from their ability to still treat people with kindness, maintain a positive attitude, and take personal responsibility for protecting their own health.
Teach your kids about progressive muscle relaxation.
Very few of us are taught about the connection between our emotions and our body's physical responses as children. Kids tend to tense their muscles and hold their breath when they feel anxious without even thinking about it. This can actually make them begin to feel disoriented and lightheaded to create a compounding effect.
While there are more complex progressive muscle relaxation techniques out there, kids can benefit from a simple head-to-toe relaxation exercise that only takes a few minutes. We can teach kids to stop to really notice the tension in their bodies when they encounter stressful situations. They should even be instructed on how to notice when they're holding their breath or changing their breathing patterns due to stress. Next, kids can focus on each tense muscle group by exercising a cycle of tensing and releasing.
Encourage your kids to keep a pandemic journal.
Kids can benefit greatly from being able to get their thoughts down on paper privately. Journaling has been proven to have many benefits for mental health. In fact, through journaling, many people find that they can improve their mood and have better control over anxiety symptoms.
Here's a look at some of the ways journaling may help a child get through back-to-school anxiety:
- It can help them to take space to prioritize their problems, fears, and concerns.
- It can help them track any stress triggers or recurring habits contributing to anxiety and fears.
- It can give them a place to identify negative thoughts.
- It can give them a space to practice positive self-talk.
How you approach the idea of keeping a journal can make all the difference. Remind your child that people living in trying times throughout history have kept diaries and journals to document their experiences. This is a good time to remind your child that they may want to go back and look at their experience through their own lens many years down the road. This outlook is encouraging because it builds on the idea that COVID-19 is something that your child will eventually be able to look back on as an adult.
Remember: keeping the conversation going is key.
Taking a positive attitude about being proactive about mental health can open the door for your child to be receptive. Of course, the most important thing you can do as a parent is model your own healthy coping habits and self-care practices. That being said, remember to keep the conversation going with your child, even once the back-to-school season is over. As a parent, you have a big opportunity to help your child develop healthy coping habits that they can bring into all of life’s situations in childhood and adulthood.