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COVID-19 anxiety: How to help your child navigate back to school

Last Updated Sep 10, 2020 at 6:17 am PST

FILE -- A sign outside Hastings Elementary Community School in Vancouver reminds anyone entering the school to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 Photo)

B.C. students begin heading back to the classroom on Thursday, and there's a lot to learn amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Parents are being reminded to watch out for signs of anxiety among their kids

Reassuring your kids, being optimistic, teaching them coping skills are ways you can help them deal with anxiety: expert

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s certainly not your typical start to the academic year. Many students across B.C. head back to the classroom on Thursday, and there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to COVID-19 protocols.

Despite district and school preparations, many children and their families are still anxious.

Parents are being reminded to watch out for signs that could indicate their children are struggling with back to school this year.

“A lot of younger kids express it in their bodies, so they’ll start complaining of headaches, tummy aches, feeling tired — that is often a message, they’re communicating something’s not right, but they don’t know how to say it or aren’t comfortable talking about it in terms of mental health,” Doctor Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist, explains.

“Look out for school refusal or just kind of making stuff up, like, ‘I don’t want to go to school today, my teacher’s mean.’ That might be the case, but also, just refusal and avoidance is another clue.”

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Kang says kids who are normally excited about school and who are withdrawing may also be experiencing anxiousness.

For older kids, Kang says oppositional behavior can be a sign to look out for.

“A lot of times, the thing that drives parents crazy, kids aren’t listening, they’re being oppositional, is really just anxiety expressing itself,” Kang explains.

And it’s not just kids who are going back to school physically who may start feeling anxious or worried. Kang says parents of students who are remote learning should also keep a close eye on behaviours.

“They’re unsure what it’s going to look like, what it’s going to mean, if they’re going to fall behind,” she says.

How to help

Kang believes parents can expect about a week or two of transition time as children get settled into their new routines.

She says offering your children reassurance and optimism can help them, and teaching your kids coping skills like breathing, mindfulness, and open communication can also quell some of these anxious feelings.

“I think, for parents, it’s really important to understand that kids really pick up anxiety and they take on ours, so we want to be very strategic and see our problems and worries in a solution-oriented way,” Kang tells NEWS 1130, suggesting parents should deal with each worry one by one.

“Collaboratively work with your child on what the solution to that worry would be.”

However, if anxiety persists beyond a few weeks into the school year, Kang says parents should consider reaching out to counsellors or a doctor for help.

With children expected to spend a lot more time using technology, she also suggests parents encourage healthy habits around screen time.

“Screens can really impact anxiety. Sleep rhythms, even sitting for long periods of time, and what they’re doing on screens in terms of comparing their lives to others — all of that adds more anxiety, toxicity, and puts them more prone to mental health issues.”

For more back-to-school news amid the COVID-19 pandemic, click here