Remember when back-to-school stress simply involved selecting the perfect backpack? When you actually could send kids to a physical brick and mortar building? When, “Remember your mask, sweetie!” was only uttered on Halloween?
This year, millions of parents may be worried about having a back-to-school breakdown, but we’re not going to let that happen! We checked in with experts to help you figure out how to get your kids back into an educational routine without causing additional stress for anyone in the family.
READ MORE: How To Overcome Pandemic Parenting Guilt
First, a disclaimer, courtesy of Dr. Nicole Avena, scientist and professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Princeton University, “There is no right or wrong way to do this,” she says. So, ignore all parenting shamers who may appear certain they know the “best” path. Sorry, Mrs. (or Mr.) Know It All, “There is risk with every decision,” whether you’re sending your kids to school or keeping them home, says Dr. Linda McWhorter, psychologist and Director of the Widener Child Therapy Clinic.
Of course it’s also okay to be nervous and have a certain amount of back-to-school stress, says Dr. Stacy Haynes, family psychologist and founder of Little Hands Family Services. The goal isn’t to be 100% stress-free, but to “manage the uncertainty with less anxiety and accept the uncertainty,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine.
REMEMBER: KIDS ARE RESILIENT
“Kids are pretty amazing,” says Brandi Davis, parenting consultant and founder of Your Parenting Partner. “Kids are so accepting, and they go with the flow,” she adds.
If your kids are nervous, “give them practical and concrete things they can do,” to help mitigate their stress, says McWhorter. For instance, if they are nervous about getting sick at school, equip them with cleaning practices and supplies to give them more control. For younger children, check out this workbook about dealing with the coronavirus: The Oyster and the Butterfly. Nervous about virtual learning? See if the school can give you a test run of the system or do some video conferencing practice sessions with friends or family.
HerMoney Takeaway: Kids are adaptable, so trust that your kids can navigate their own way through their back-to-school stress.
KEEP CALM AND PARENT ON
“Stay really positive, because as a parent you set the tone,” says McWhorter. In other words, if you have back-to-school stress, your kiddo will, too.
By keeping your emotions in check and remaining calm, you provide children with a safe place to explore their own emotions and concerns, says Debbie Lopez, Community Outreach Director for Zivadream, teacher and stress management coach.
“You don’t want to say it will be all doom and gloom. Instill some hope,” says Dr. Tichianaa Armah, psychiatrist and Medical Director and Vice President of Behavioral Health at Community Health Center. She recommends sharing stories of hard times your family has gotten through, or details of past epidemics to illustrate that people have been through this before, and made it out the other side just fine.
“It is also really important to build in time for some family fun,” says McWhorter, even if it is for just five minutes. So tell jokes, have a dance party in the kitchen, and for younger kids, you might try checking out Go Noodle.
HerMoney Takeaway: Setting a calm, positive environment will help you and your kids power through.
IDENTIFY STRESSORS AND FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
Make a list and figure out what you’re feeling most anxious about so that you can be more accepting of the situation, and ask, yourself “‘How do I make this good?’” suggests Saltz.
It’s also helpful to focus on what you can control. To keep calm, put the breaks on using phrases like, “in these uncertain times,” says Avena. There are things that we can control and that are certain. “We are certain that we love our kids,” she offers. Identify what else is in your control and what is certain in your particular situation, Avena suggests.
“The thing that will chill people out the most is getting information,” says Davis. So ask the school the questions that will put you and your kids at ease.
“The second wave of this pandemic is stress,” says Avena. “There are a lot of people hell-bent on focusing on the negative,” she says. “But, we need to talk about the positive,” to help us all deal with the stress, she explains. So yes, the situation could get worse, but it could also improve dramatically. “We just have to keep our heads up!” according to Avena. And maybe not watch the news too much, recommends Davis.
“We have to make room for uncertainty,” explains McWhorter, but we also have to make room for each other. “We have to give each other a little grace,” and give ourselves some compassion, because we are all going to find different ways through this. But we’ll get through it!
HerMoney Takeaway: Address your concerns and fears, to solve for some of your worries.
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