Updated: Aug 9
After 6 long months, schools are reopening with young people and teachers going back to work, with some already gone back last week.
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 year presents a rather unique and unchartered challenge and terrority that young people haven't face before. 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 a cringy movie about virus outbreaks is now the norm and has caused a big debate amongst many people. Navigating this new reality is a challenge for even the most prepared and mentally strong adult—let alone school-going children and teenagers.
How will classes be different this time around? Will I get sick? What about my teachers, classmates, and friends? 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.
· Fear of not being able to visit vulnerable loved ones after going back to school—owing to an increased risk of exposure.
· Disruption of part of their lives that contributed to their identity among their peers.
· Overwhelming information and rumours on social media about the virus.
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 reported by the BBC, anxiety levels among teens in the UK surprisingly dropped during the lockdown period. This raises questions regarding the mental health of young people in learning institutions. Think about it; why would teenagers be happier staying away from school amid a global pandemic? This makes the issue of managing back-to-school anxiety as school re-open even more pressing.
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 During the Pandemic?
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.
Most of all, take your time, be patient, allow yourself and others to process. We have to work at this together and we are always stronger together. 2020 has been a year to forget for many and a very traumatic time. Year 2020 will likely be in the history lessons in the future and one that will be hard to visualise for those hearing and learning about it but this really has been a testing time for peoples mental health as their lives have been changed in one way or another with their routines being completely thrown and for some young people, losing their school life was their biggest grief in their journey through life so far.
Stay Safe and look after each other.