Back-To-School Anxiety and What You Can Do About It
It’s getting to be that time of year again. Back-to-school sales abound – and so does back-to-school anxiety. Only this year, the normal anxieties of “will I make new friends” or “I wonder what my teacher(s) will be like” have been supplemented with a dose of COVID-19 anxiety. Let’s explore why your children may be worried about going back to school even more than usual this year and, more importantly, what you can do to help.
What Is Anxiety?
So, first things first: what exactly is anxiety? As we previously covered in our blog, anxiety is a term that gets thrown around pretty loosely. Although it can be related to and caused by stress, anxiety can persist even in the absence of obvious stressors. So, while your child may be feeling stressed about going back to school this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an anxiety disorder. However, children with a pre-existing anxiety disorder may see an even greater increase in their symptoms right now, even in comparison to previous back-to-school anxiety. Speaking of symptoms, stress and anxiety have many symptoms in common, including insomnia, muscle tension, digestive troubles, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Let’s address the elephant in the room here – this pandemic has been incredibly traumatic, for kids and adults alike. Healthline reported on a study done last year in China, which found that over 10% of participants aged 14-35 were showing symptoms of PTSD just one month into the pandemic. Now here we are over a full year later, with multiple vaccines available to everyone across the country, and cases are back on the rise. Part of this increase in cases is due to the Delta variant infecting even some vaccinated people (please get the vaccine though, reporting shows that it does lower your likelihood of contracting COVID-19, as well as the likelihood of a hospitalization/death if you do get infected), but the truth is that we simply reopened the country before it was safe to do so.
The fact that we reopened before reaching herd immunity meant that we were inviting a new spike in cases. Of course, people were always going to have trouble readjusting to a post-COVID world, but our return to normalcy has been further complicated by the fact that we aren’t returning to normal. The virus is still raging and both vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike are ignoring mask/social distancing guidelines. This situation has increased anxiety for much of the population, especially for kids and teens who will be returning to school soon – maybe too soon if we’re being honest.
Why You and Your Child Might Be Anxious About Going Back to School
It is understandable that many parents and children want to go back to in-person schooling. School is where kids see their friends and develop both academically and socially. However, the returning to school each year can be an anxiety-inducing time for some children. Now, the pandemic has increased stress and anxiety for both children and parents across this country. Parents are worried about their children, as well as their children potentially spreading the virus to older relatives (this fear is compounded for multi-generational homes). These families do have reason to be worried about returning to school while the pandemic is still raging. As of the time that this is being written, children 12 and under are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Many schools are not requiring masks (even though masks are still recommended by the CDC for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people when gathering indoors), and some states have outright banned mask mandates on government property.
What Can You Do to Help Reduce Your Child’s Anxiety?
Even though worries about COVID-19 and children returning to in-person schooling are valid, there are things that you and your children can do to lower your risk of infection. First, remember that infections in children are relatively rare. Although over 4 million children have been diagnosed (14% of cases), severe cases and death are both extremely rare. Second, make sure that every eligible person living in your household is vaccinated. Third, provide your child with age-appropriate information about safety precautions (like mask wearing and hand washing) so that they understand the importance of staying safe. Fourth, practice for back-to-school day. According to Johns Hopkins, you should begin practicing school day routines (waking up/going to bed earlier, setting out the next day’s clothes before bed, etc.), arranging play dates with classmates, and visit/explore the school a couple of weeks before school starts.
Fifth, and finally, help your child get a good night’s sleep with a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets are safe for children over two and can help with symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, autism, and sensory processing disorders. If your child is having trouble sleeping at night because of their back-to-school anxiety, consider a weighted blanket. Experts recommend choosing a weighted blanket that is 10% of your child’s bodyweight plus 1-2 pounds (so that the blanket has some room for your child to grow into it).
Anxiety over going back to school is normal but is being greatly increased thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is understandable that you and/or your child may be worried about returning to in-person schooling, but there are things that you and your child can do to reduce your risk of infection. Make sure that your child understands the importance of wearing a mask and washing their hands when in school. Start practicing school day procedures now, especially if your child’s school is implementing special procedures for COVID (e.g., special drop-off and pick-up zones for social distancing purposes). Try weighted blankets and other anxiety-reducing products to make sure that your child is getting a good night’s sleep before school. And, of course, make sure that everyone in your household who is eligible for the vaccine gets vaccinated.