Back to school often comes with excitement, as kids pick out their first-day outfits and crack open fresh notebooks. This year, that excitement is tempered by an underlying current of unease, as we enter our second school year in the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s normal for families to be feeling some additional anxiety right now, says Fatmeh, a family resource facilitator with the County. In her role, Fatmeh works directly with parents and kids to build resiliency and is part of the team offering a workshop to help parents ease into the school year.
“Right now, I think the biggest challenge is parents helping their kids navigate something that they themselves are feeling uncertain about,” she says.
And while this uncertainty affects adults and children alike, there are practical ways to support yourself and your kids through this season. Fatmeh offers four tips to stay resilient through your family’s second pandemic September.
Address your own anxiety
Before you can offer support to an anxious child, it’s important to acknowledge and address your own concerns about the back-to-school season, says Fatmeh.
“If you are feeling stressed out, it's completely normal and expected for your child to also be feeling that way,” she adds. “Instead of feeling guilty that you might pass that along to your child, focus on what else you can pass along — the way that you respond to the situation.”
Your concerns as a parent are a teaching opportunity for your child, as you model how you respond to stressful situations — with the first step being just to acknowledge those feelings.
Fatmeh also recommends talking to your child’s school, reviewing public health guidelines and gathering as much information as you can. This information can ease some of your worries and model a proactive approach to your child.
Have a heartfelt conversation
Once you’ve gathered the information you can, Fatmeh recommends sitting down for a heartfelt conversation with your kids. She suggests having this chat during a quiet moment, without distractions.
As a parent, you can model vulnerability by sharing your concerns, then focusing the conversation on listening to your child’s worries, whether they be about health, missing home or making new friends.
Allow the child to express what they feel in their own words, says Fatmeh. “Relay what you hear back to the child so they feel validated. Then you can move to coping strategies, which starts with allowing your child to take the lead on what works for them.”
Offer children some control
After having a conversation, one of the first steps to help ease your child’s anxiety is offering an age-appropriate amount of control over parts of their routine. “Uncertainty leads to feeling a loss of control for both parents and kids. So, wherever there is control to be given, include the children in that process,” says Fatmeh.
This could be as simple as sitting down with kids to plan after-school activities, letting them choose some weekend adventures or including them in meal-planning. “Kids should feel like they have some ownership of their life. They’ll be more excited and look forward to things if they get to be part of planning and own it.”
This sense of control can help build a child’s confidence, put their mind at ease and improve their overall resilience as they feel included.
Seek out support
If you’re eager to learn more about how to navigate this season, check out the Family Resource Network and the free workshops they’re offering this fall.
On September 15, parents and caregivers are invited to the Community Centre for a workshop on easing into the school year. The team will share how to have conversations with your child about stressful situations and outline specific coping tips parents can use to set their child up for success. Later this fall, the team is offering workshops on emotion coaching and other topics to encourage resilience.
Ultimately, Fatmeh says she has hope for this new school year, as she's witnessed many parents looking for new ways to encourage their kids. “Although parents have been feeling anxious themselves, we’re seeing a lot of parents reaching out for support. Adults showing genuine care for their child’s well-being is one of the biggest contributors for great resiliency in a child.”
This story is part of our Be Real. Be Really Kind campaign to encourage empathy as we enter community recovery from COVID-19. If you’re struggling with your mental health, finances or just feel overwhelmed, call our Family and Community Services line at 780-464-4044.