After nearly a long year, schools are again reopening with young people and teachers going back to work. What a whirlwind of a ride we have all been on this past year. When the schools first closed last year, no-one would have guessed that a year later, this is where we would be.
Going back to school is usually a period of mixed emotions. For some young people, it’s an exciting time and an opportunity to reconnect with friends or absorb knowledge. For others, it’s a stress-inducing experience with younger kids concerned about leaving the comfort of their homes and older kids (teens) worried about academics and fitting in with the society within the school.
For many children in the U.K, this past year presents a rather unique and the typical back-to-school jitters and apprehensions are likely to be amplified following the COVID-19 crisis that brought the world to a standstill.
As an adult, parent, guardian or carer it’s your responsibility to assure your young person while promoting their safety and I know, this is also going to be difficult whilst dealing with your own anxiety, as you may possibly going back to work or still working from home. Read on for more on how to manage back-to-stress anxiety at these trying times.
A Different Type of ‘Back-to-School Anxiety
The COVID-19 flung us into a new reality. What we previously deemed normal now seems like wishful thinking—and what we thought was far-fetched or straight from movie about virus outbreaks is now the norm and has caused a big debate amongst many people, with many people who are now tired of talking about it. Navigating this new reality has been a challenge for even the most prepared and mentally strong adult—let alone school-going children and teenagers.
Will the classes be different this time around? Are there going to be new rules? Will I get sick? What about my teachers, classmates, and friends? Many of the students who were going to school, appreciated the fact that the classes were small & our now anxious about the rest of the school coming back in, whilst most of those coming back are anxious about going back to school as they have grown comfortable with the home learning. There are tons of worries and uncertainties that can easily lead to anxiety in young people when going back to school, including:
· Anxiety over missing special events or milestones such as sports activities or concerts.
· Concerns over social distancing in a school environment or forgetting to wear face masks.
· Disruption of part of their lives that contributed to their identity among their peers.
· Overwhelming information and rumours on social media about the virus and the roadmap
Drawing on past outbreaks of infectious diseases, it’s relatively common for young people to struggle with depression, anxiety, stress, and other psychological issues. For example, a UK study published in the Journal of Mental Health concluded that “Children receiving mental health care may be particularly psychologically vulnerable to infectious disease epidemics.” Similarly, another 2017 study noted that the number of people with social problems, anxiety, and depression increased following an Ebola outbreak.
According to a recent study carried out by young minds, 69% of respondents described their mental health as poor, 40% of respondents said there was no counsellor or coach available to support the students. This is something that we must prepare for as we hope the seeming light at the end of tunnel comes closer, there must be mental wellbeing support in place to help young people as they hope to get normality & routine back in their lives.
How Do I Know My Child is Stressed or Anxious?
The first step to managing back-to-school anxiety is identifying it. What are the tell-a-tale signs of a young person struggling with stress and anxiety? It’s important to note that sometimes children and teenagers may not be straightforward with their feelings. It may be up to you to pick up on the cues by taking note of the following indicators:
· Fidgety or restless
· Appear worried
· The child is unusually clingy
· Difficulty concentrating
· Changes in sleeping or eating habits
· Easily agitated
· Negative thoughts or pessimism
If not managed, anxieties can negatively affect the young person’s social life and school performance. With this in mind, you must take the necessary measures to address the issue rather than ignoring and waiting it out with the assumption that it will pass.
What Can I do to Deal with Back-to-School Anxiety?
As a parent or guardian, there are several things you can do to ease your child’s back-to-school anxiety at these trying times.
· Listen and understand the actual fears running through your child’s mind. What are they worried about specifically? This will foster a strong foundation to connect with them and better solves their problems.
· As much as you’re dealing with your own anxieties as a parent, ensure you demonstrate a sense of confidence and calm while dealing with young people. Foster the message that “we are okay—and we can get through this.”
· Focus on the things that are actually within their control. For things that are beyond control, empathise with them and strategise on ways to adapt.
· Be there! Ensure you give your child the necessary attention and a constant level of support.
· Seek outside help when the feeling of anxiety goes on for longer than usual.
For school students, it has been such a mixed bag. Our current year 8's who are about to become year 9's, have skipped the transition phase from primary to secondary school and we all know that is a big jump. They have fast tracked from year 6 to year 9 with little social time, adapting to new teaching techniques and an advanced curriculum. Current year 11's are going back with to cancelled GCSE exams, whilst under pressure to chose their A levels in the next stage of their educational development. Let's not forget that not so long ago, this particular year were preparing themselves to embark on their GCSE journey. This is something that all adults have not been through before, so no one could have been prepared for this.
A parent may have had their business closed or on the brink of closing, whilst their young person has had their exams cancelled. For the parent and the young person, this may be the most difficult circumstance in their life to date. Family, friends and colleagues have all been going through their own personal journey over the past year, so we have to try and see it from another's perspective. Most of all, take your time, be patient, allow yourself and others to process. We are all just trying to figure this out, each day or each announcement at a time. We have to work at this together and we are always stronger together. The past year has been a year to forget for many and a very traumatic time. We now have a light at the end of the tunnel so must look to the future and work towards getting society back which we will only do through empathy, compassion and love.
In my next blog post, I will be writing about how to prepare yourself for coming out of lockdown, so stay tuned.
Peace & Love, always.