Helping anxious students return to school during a pandemic
With the start of a new school year right around the corner, the team of in-school social workers with Catholic Charities of Buffalo are sharing tips for parents and caregivers who may have a child who is anxious about stepping back into the classroom.
“Returning to school as the Covid-19 pandemic continues is stressful for many students and their parents,” said Lisa Oviatt, LMSW, supervisor, In-School Social Work Program, Catholic Charities. “Even children who have never experienced anxiety before may be nervous about what school will look like upon return this year.”
Signs that your child is experiencing anxiety may include difficulty going to sleep or sleeping too much, irritability, changes in appetite, physical complaints like stomachaches or headaches, isolation – turning down opportunities to be with friends or spending a lot of time alone, fear of being separated from parents, resistance to talk about school, and refusal to go to school. Parents should keep a watchful eye and consider incorporating some of the following tips to help ease back to school anxiety:
- Empathize with your child and normalize their concerns. Say things like, “I can totally understand about being nervous returning to school. There are so many things still uncertain. But I know there are other kids feeling the exact same way, especially those kids who are returning to school after being remote all last year. Can you imagine how they must feel?”
- Remain positive. Remind your child of the good and fun parts of school, such as seeing friends, making new friends, talking about their summer, meeting their teacher, etc. Engage them in conversation about things they used to enjoy at school, like gym or art class, eating lunch with friends, learning new things, etc.
- Ask for help from the school. Contact the school before the first day. Ask if your child can see their classroom and meet their teacher. Find out who the social worker is and put your child on their radar. Ask if they will share the class roster to see if your child already knows some kids in their class.
- Create a sleep/wake schedule in the weeks prior to school. Help get them used to their school year routine before school starts. Also, getting enough rest helps reduce anxiety and fear.
- Attend any orientations or meetings your school may offer prior to the start of school. Gather information so you are prepared to answer your child’s questions about the new school year. Your comfort level about sending your child to school will affect theirs. Do what you need to do to alleviate any concerns you may have.
- Anticipate anything that may get in the way of a good day at school and plan accordingly – lack of sleep (get to bed on time), running late in the morning (get up a few minutes earlier, lay out clothes the night before, pack lunches the night before), forgetting things (set out the night before – backpack, gym clothes, instrument, etc.)
- Practice coping skills with your child. There are many great apps and videos available to help you learn some basic skills and simple relaxation techniques. Mindfulness practices such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and visualization can be learned at home and utilized at school. Stress balls and fidgets (with teacher permission) can help your child calm down.
“If you recognize that your child’s anxiety is disrupting their daily life, seek help,” added Oviatt. “Seek outside counseling with a trained clinician. You can reach out to the social worker or counselor at your child’s school or schedule an appointment with your pediatrician.”
Catholic Charities’ In-School Social Work Program is currently offered in 21 Catholic schools in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties. Catholic Charities also offers similar services in select Buffalo Public Schools. In addition, individual, children and family counseling services are available throughout the eight counties of Western New York. For more information on these or any of Catholic Charities’ programs visit, ccwny.org.