How to tackle back to school anxiety
Planning a return to the classroom with safety rules in place
The last year has been unique in so many ways. We’ve had to stay at home for months at a time, 24 hours together with the whole family, find hobbies within our limited confines, and also be our optimised selves for work from home. Even as adults we have found this difficult, so imagine children doing this and imagine how much harder would it have been for them? But they did it. Adapting to all these changes, finding interests, trying to optimise their academics, doing their best to manage it all.
However, just as they started accepting this as a new normal, they now have to re-adjust and re-adapt to exactly what they left behind.
This new academic year has brought a lot of mixed emotions in students. While it may be a huge relief to go out, meet friends, be away from the family, it does come with its own set of insecurities.
Staying at home for so many months has become a safe zone for children. With just family in the physical space, it’s been so much easier to attend classes from the comfort of the sofa. No worry about getting up early, no teachers to force discipline, nor the social competitions. Being behind the screen, for many, has become like sitting on the last bench of the class. The comfort of being hidden in a way.
Going back to school for many children would take away the safety net being at home brings. It would mean they would have to face even the children they may feel judged by, they would have to put in efforts in following rules, and for some, even delve in behaviours that they need, to be popular. Research has suggested that many school teens found focusing on academics easier, because they did not have to worry about their “social status” in school anymore. They could be themselves without the fear of criticism. Research also talks about many teenagers creating an alternative self on social media without actually making much efforts. Going back to school would mean re-socialising and putting all the efforts towards proving that “cool” persona; this has begun creating anxiety in a lot of teens.
For younger children, these past months meant having excessive support of parents, stability, intensified attachments, especially making it harder for children having separation anxiety to once again adapt to going to school.
Going to school would require all children to wear face masks the whole day, maintain social distance, there will be reduced head count in classes and even suspension of group activities, thus making it very possible that the excitement which once motivated children to go to school, might be dampened with the regulations.
In all of this, it is essential to remind ourselves about the silver lining: meeting friends, re-socialising, re-adapting to a place of belonging will help children flourish cognitively and emotionally.
Keeping this in mind, it is now crucial for parents to support their child and help them process their anxieties in a healthy manner. Parents can guide their children by modelling calmness when they go to office, talking to children about what they will enjoy and gain from going to school, hear their anxieties, validate them and jointly find solutions, remind them that they can protect themselves and others by following the Covid-19 safety guidelines, support them to reconnect and make plans for school with their friends, thus helping them look forward to it. Most important of all would be managing your child’s expectation, and letting them know it is absolutely acceptable for them to take time to adjust to going back to school.