As children and teens return to schools after a year and a half of disruptions due to COVID-19, it is natural for children to feel anxious or stressed. Kids and their families may have many concerns, such as: the fear of contracting COVID-19, worrying about how new rules and restrictions will impact their school environment and what it will be like to be in a live classroom again.
We talked with Forest Juvland, LICSW, partial hospitalization program therapist at our specialty center in Lakeville, about how going back to school may affect children’s mental health.
Tips for parents and teachers
As parents and teachers, it is important to take an empathetic and understanding approach to the anxieties and stress that children and teens feel.
Listen and validate
Listening to and validating your child’s concerns will help ease the anxiety around returning to school. Plus, it has the potential to start an effective dialogue that can help address any problems.
Take their concerns seriously
“It is important to remember that many kids and teens have not been in a normal classroom setting for a long time, and it is important to take their concerns seriously,” Juvland said.
Minimizing or not discussing a child’s feelings may lead them to not being comfortable discussing their concerns, leading to problems that may have simple solutions not getting fixed.
Discussing the anxiety that your kids and teens may have is important, but it’s also important to share your anxieties as a parent or teacher as well. Going back to school is another transition we have had to experience since the start of the pandemic.
Talking about everyone’s feelings can help destigmatize the anxieties people are facing, and allow for a more open and supportive environment.
Tips for kids and teens
Here are Juvland’s tips for kids and teens to prepare to go back to school. These tips can help them mentally prepare and feel less anxiety as school approaches.
Prepare for structure
As school approaches, it is important to realize that the amount of structure kids and teens will face returning to the classroom may feel overwhelming. Many children have had a lack of school structure during the pandemic. So, now is the perfect time to begin preparing.
“Start by implementing structure back into their daily life; perhaps this could by setting up a regular bed time and wake-up time,” Juvland said. “This will help kids and teens develop consistency that can be easily translated into the coming school year.”
Coping ahead is also a great way for teens and kids to prepare for school. This is where a person thinks about the things they are worried about potentially occurring. A person can write this worry down, draw pictures, talk about it or simply think about it.
After they have the worry in mind, develop ways to overcome that situation in as great of detail as possible and imagine being successful with that strategy. This is an excellent tool, because it allows a person to strategize and develop tools for a potentially anxiety-producing event. Plus, being prepared is going to naturally reduce the level of anxiety a kid or teen feels.
Another great tool is teaching kids various mindfulness techniques such as: deep breathing, using a fidget toy, meditating or even taking a walk around the school hall.
Juvland says, “The wonderful thing about mindfulness is that it can be done almost anywhere and can help a child distract themselves from a currently anxiety-provoking situation and calm their body and mind.”
Our Lakeville specialty center offers behavioral health services
In June 2021, our specialty center in Lakeville started offering an adolescent partial hospitalization program (also called a mental health day-program) designed to meet the needs of each individual child. Patients will have hours of therapy each day, but will return home with their families each night.
To learn more about our adolescent partial hospitalization program or to learn about enrolling your child, call 952-992-6750.