Usually, at this time of year, we might begin thinking and preparing for our children to return to school. That is the same this year, although so much else is different. This article briefly considers some common concerns regarding returning to school during a global pandemic and provides resources for further exploration. First, we’ll consider some recommendations specifically related to returning to school during the pandemic before concluding with general reminders regarding helping children in maintaining mental health during the pandemic. 

Some common concerns for children and their parents returning to school this year include fear of returning to school, concerns regarding personal protective equipment, hygiene, physical distancing, isolation, and coping. For most of these concerns, modeling by parents and calm, informative conversations can be helpful. Here are some specifics ways you can do so with your child:

  • Communicate expectations

     With or without a pandemic, children almost always benefit from having clear expectations. Calmly discuss with your child what expectations will be at school this year. This may include new actions such as increased hygiene, physical distancing, personal protective equipment, etc. Informing your child and even practicing so they know what to expect when returning to school can decrease some anxiety. 

  • Be open to discussing fears and anxieties

    There are many new fears a child could have returning to school this year. What if they get sick? What if all the changes make school less fun? What if they do not get to play the same with their friends? What if they do not like wearing personal protective equipment? In times of stress and anxiety, it can be helpful to actively listen and validate your child’s concerns. Try to understand any fears your child has and help them to know they are not alone. Without being dismissive of fears, you can then educate them regarding any misconceptions and remind them of the safeguards that are in place to protect them. You can also practice coping skills with your child. Speak with your clinician about your child’s anxiety, or if you do not have a current clinician, consider scheduling an appointment if your child’s anxiety is significant or difficult to manage. 

  • ‘Pros’ of returning

    While there are lots of concerns regarding returning to school, try to spend some time discussing potential benefits with your child as well. Many children, even some who do not typically enjoy going to school, were disappointed when schools were closed in the spring. Remind them of what they are missing that attending school will provide, such as getting to see their friends, their favorite teacher, getting a break from their home and brothers and sisters, etc. 

Some information from this article is cited from UNICEF. See their article on the topic if you would like to read more about any of the above concerns

As your children may be exposed to new elements or information about the pandemic by returning to school, here is a reminder of some general ways to help children cope during the pandemic, taken from guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

  • Remember that children do not always show or articulate stress in expected ways. 
  • Take breaks from the news and social media. 
  • Maintain routines. 
  • Spend quality time together. 
  • Take care of your own physical and mental health! 

You may refer to the following article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information about helping children cope with COVID-19: 

Read the full article

Thank you for reading! If you have further concerns regarding your child’s mental health as they return to school during the pandemic, please speak with your clinician or contact Arkansas Families First for an appointment

Learn more about the author, Dr. Tiffany Wierzbicki