Parents on back-to-school pre-2020: “I can’t wait to get my kids out of the house after a long summer and have them back to their normal routine!”
Parents on back-to-school 2020: Is….this….really….happening? What….am….I….going….to….do?”
As a fellow parent, I get it. The stress, anxiety and unknowns of not only back to school – but also the school year ahead and beyond – can be terrifying.
With many schools opting for distance learning, hybrid models, or a choice between both, parents are faced with making decisions that they never imagined having to make.
Do I send my child to school so I can continue to work? Do I quit my job so I can keep my child safe from the virus and teach them at home? How can I provide for my family and keep them safe? What kind of education can I give my child? Every family has unique circumstances and there is no “wrong” choice when making this difficult decision. They need to do what is best for them.
But what is key for every family right now is learning and using positive coping strategies during these unprecedented times. For parents, teens and children today, we need to acknowledge the difficult, uncertain and overwhelming feelings we’re having – and learn how to cope with them in a positive, productive way.
Here are some helpful ways to do that:
- Practice self-Care: Physical, mental and emotional self-care is critical. Maintaining healthy eating and sleep habits are crucial to maintaining a healthy physical lifestyle. Regular physical exercise is a proven way to increase positive “feel-good” chemicals in the body. Maintaining a schedule is an important part of this, too. Whether you are choosing back to school, hybrid, distance-learning, or homeschooling, a daily schedule is important to stay on a healthy path. Another key part of self-care is having a positive social network for yourself and your child. Making time for each person as an individual is just as important as having positive family time.
- Positive self-talk: As parents, we are making the best decision that we can for our family. Don’t place blame where it doesn’t belong. Talk to yourself about the reasons you are making the choice that you are, and help your child(ren) see that they can have positive self-talk during a difficult time. Children learn from their parents and they will model the type of self-talk they are exposed to. Showing yourself and your children that it is okay to be upset as long as it is handled appropriately is a great start to having your own self-care and teaching your child(ren).
Talk about the anxiety: This is a tough time for everyone. It’s normal to experience feelings of anxiety and stress. It is important that it is acknowledged, not just for adults, but kids too. Each parent knows themselves and their child, so it is vital to be able to recognize some signs of anxiety:
- Displaying changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Experiencing bouts of unexplained crying
- Complaining about stomachaches
- Experiencing struggles to concentrate
- Appearing more clingy than normal
- Getting upset or angry more quickly
- Expressing negative thoughts or worries
- Appearing restless and fidgety
Know your local resources: No matter what model works best for your family this coming school year, know the different resources that you have available. Look into local groups that may have some room to help with distance learning, child care, transportation, homeschool activities, etc. Every family is different and school boards have seen a wide range of resources from many different people in the community.
If you are worried about having to balance work with everything else, reach out to your HR department and share your concerns. Most places of employment are willing to talk about them and help come up with the best solution for you and your family.
Talk to your friends, too. If they are parents of school-aged children, they likely share your fears and anxiety. No one knows what it will look like that first day/week/month of school, but it is important for you to know that you are not alone in those feelings.
- Know when to seek outside help: Sometimes, we need to talk to someone who is not in our daily lives. Recognizing anxious symptoms is a great first step, but so is identifying when you or your child may need to seek help from a professional. You know yourself and your child – if you feel the situation is not getting better or worsening, reach out to the school counselor or a community mental health counselor.
Whether you chose to send your child(ren) back to school full-time, part-time, or not at all, be confident that you are doing what is best for you with the information that you have. Anxiety and fear are normal pieces to this puzzle, but it is best to face them head-on rather than ignoring that they exist. Taking care of your family’s physical, mental and emotional well-being are the first steps to making the 2020-2021 school year transition as smooth as possible.
And remember: our team of seasoned professionals are here to help you through this difficult time. Please feel free to reach out to us.
Danielle Capelle is a licensed clinical mental health counselor for Catholic Charities NH. She specializes in working with adolescents/teens, adults, couples and families on challenges related to anxiety/stress, difficult life adjustments, depression and trauma. She is based out of our Concord, NH and Manchester, NH offices.