How can you address school-related anxiety and support your child?

How can you address school-related anxiety and support your child?

Whether your child or teenager is fully remote learning or is attending school in some capacity, they’re facing challenges they never have before. As a parent, what can you do to help them do and feel their best during this time?

Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, offers the following guidance.

  • Set the scene for mental and physical health: be proactive
    • Taking steps to promote emotional and physical well-being helps children (and parents!) to be more resilient in the face of stress. While it can be difficult, maintaining these practices, including consistent routines and schedules, regardless of educational setting (in-person and remote learning) will help children cope academically and emotionally. Here are some tips for promoting consistency and well-being:
      • Ensure your child is getting enough sleep, and keep consistent bedtimes/wake times
      • Schedule consistent mealtimes and ensure your child is eating a healthy diet
      • Make physical activity a priority for your child on a daily basis—exercise is an excellent tool for managing stress
      • Ensure your child is getting fresh air every day.
      • Maintain expectations for a morning routine: oral hygiene, getting dressed
      • Provide breaks—including time for recess (outdoors when possible)
      • Set up a designated and organized workspace at home when possible
      • Make sure there is time in your child’s day—every day—for fun
  • Tackle the unknown with preparation and communication
    • Check in with your child regularly. Ask how things are going.
    • Set the expectation that there will likely continue to be changes this school year. Emphasize that these changes are in place to keep everyone safe.
      • Changes include how things are done at school, school hours, school activities and where we go to school.
      • Even families who choose in-person school will most likely also be doing school from home at times. So, in-person school really means “mostly in-person” or “sometimes in-person.” Students who choose in-person learning will most likely be back and forth from school to home. Children need to be aware of this and expect the changes.
    • Talk about circumstances that might cause things to change and help your child prepare for changes by explaining what it will be like (e.g., a move from hybrid or in-person to remote learning).
    • Reassure your child that you will tell them about changes as soon as you know.
    • Talk about remote learning last spring and identify what were the positives of the situation and what things did not work out so well. You can work together to try to problem solve the concerns.
  • Provide support and help with coping
    • Check in with your child regularly about how they are doing. Listen, validate their feelings, and help them to know that they are not alone and that feelings of worry during this time make sense. This is difficult and worrisome and frustrating for all of us.
    • Help your child focus on what is known, safe, and stable for them right now. Build in choice and control where you can. Help them to identify those things that are within their control in-terms of maintaining safety. Also, what is consistent and predictable terms of their every day?
    • Help your child to identify those things that they may be looking forward to this year and foster excitement about the good things.
    • Teach problem solving and other coping skills, such as deep breathing. Work together with your child to try to problem solve things that are not working well.
    • Ask for help when you need it—for yourself and for your child. Reach out to your child’s teacher or school counselor if your child is struggling with learning circumstances, inconsistency, or anything else.
    • If your child is struggling to cope with anxiety or other emotions, do not hesitate to talk to a professional.
    • Emphasize that eventually this situation will end, and everyone will be back in school. While you cannot say exactly when, you can say that it will end. In the meantime, the idea is to be flexible in making this a very-different-but-still-fun school year.

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.