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As therapists offering anxiety therapy in 2021, we know that the new school year can be filled with both excitement and anxiety for children and parents. The start of the 2021 school year is unlike any in living memory, and it’s bringing unprecedented challenges for both parents and children.

Preparing kids for school

A few months ago, it looked like we were slowly but surely returning to our normal lives. But with the Delta variant causing COVID cases to rise, parents and kids alike are now facing a new time of uncertainty, not to mention the impacts of lengthy lockdowns during the previous school year, all combined with traditional back-to-school nervousness. It’s a lot to manage. So in this blog I’m going to talk about facing some of the challenges of this back-to-school season, including remote vs online learning, preparing kids for a return to school and managing your own well-being.

To go or not to go? When to consider anxiety treatment

In my region of Ontario, many parents face a choice: have kids return to in-person classes (with full safety measures) or continue with online classes. For many families, this has set up a very difficult decision.

In-person learning is generally considered best for kids’ overall physical and mental health. On the other hand, with the Delta variant proving more potentially hazardous for children, families are fearful about safety, and even more so if there are elderly or immuno-compromised people in the house. Online learning has also been better for some kids who, for example, might have struggled with social problems or bullying. Yet for many parents who have demanding jobs or can’t work from home, there’s no choice at all—they simply have to send the kids to school or face a loss of financial stability. It’s a complicated situation for everyone.

Every family is different, and I can’t tell you what the right choice is. All you can do is make the best decision possible with the information at hand. There may be no good choices. If so, all we can do is pick the least-bad option, and—this is important—try not to feel guilty about it. As parents, we tend to be experts at feeling guilty about anything regarding our kids, even at the best of times. In the pandemic, that becomes even harder to manage. But we have to learn to accept that many factors are out of our control, and if we strive for perfection, we’re doomed to fail, since none of us can be perfect.

Preparing kids for school

For most children, going back to school means adjusting to a more structured schedule. You can prepare your child by gradually shifting to a routine that’s closer to the school day, including sleep schedules, meals and screen time. It’s also important to go through some of the usual back-to-school rituals, such as shopping for clothes and supplies. Even if you have to do this virtually, engage kids in the process. If kids have been home a lot, without seeing their peers, also try to get them together with friends and classmates. Make an outdoor playdate, and don’t supervise too closely, so they can get back into the habit of being around other kids. 

It’s also really important to manage their safety concerns. By now, kids have been normalized to wear masks and socially distance. But if kids are nervous, let them express these feelings, and don’t dismiss their anxiety. Listen to their concerns, validate their feelings and then explain all the measures that you, teachers and school boards are taking to keep them safe. Also try to focus on the positive, by asking them what they’re looking forward to, and what some of the benefits of being in school might be.Highschool anxiety

With older kids, who might also be struggling with social concerns, try to empathize. For example, those of us who’ve been on maternity leave know exactly what it’s like to return to an organization after a long gap. It can be hard to go back—people and surroundings may be different, and you have to figure out where you fit in all over again. So, explain that there will be new teachers and new kids, but there will also many familiar, friendly face. Let kids know that in these uncertain times, it’s normal to be worried, but we’re all doing the best we can to cope, and it should get better each day.

Your Therapy is a safe, welcoming, counselling therapy practice in the Greater Toronto Area. Thanks for reading and, as always, please feel free to reach out with questions about talk therapy or other mental health issues. We offer depression therapy, anxiety therapy, and more.

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