As a new wave and variant of COVID-19 rages throughout the country, children may feel nervous about returning to school in person. It is scary for adults who need to return to work, but it can be frightening for children who are now expected to return to in-person learning. Very young children may not understand the significance of the virus if they have not been exposed to its consequences, but you can teach them the importance of wearing their mask properly (covering their nose and mouth) as they return to school full-time.
For older children and teens who have lost family members to COVID or understand more of the impact the virus has had, they may be afraid to leave their families for several hours every day. Quarantine had a significant impact on children’s social development, and those who became very attached to their parents may experience more anxiety upon returning to school. Those who have lost someone might fear being exposed to the virus and bringing it back home or having another loved one catch it.
Many children may not fully understand the impact of the virus, but parents do. The New York Times published an article entitled: “The Pandemic Is a ‘Mental Health Crisis’ for Parents” that shows how significant the stress has been for caregivers with young children since the beginning of the pandemic. Being separated from your student so they can learn and socialize with others in person can be terrifying as new Delta cases rise with no sign of stopping.
If you and your child are afraid of the Delta variant of the virus, anxious about being away from family members, or worried about interacting with others in person, here are a few ways to help you calm down and cope together.
Check the Facts
Though news of the Delta variant is rampant in the media, experts find the classroom relatively safe if everyone is masked. According to Dr. Chin-Hong from UCSF, the virus is not nearly as contagious among children as it is for adults because children have very few ace-receptors.
Becoming aware of the science and reasoning behind opening schools again, you can talk about this with your older children and answer any questions they might have. Even if you don’t know the answer, you can look it up together. However, stay away from sensational media and stick solely to the facts about the virus.
Validate and Think Positively
Children may have many feelings about returning to school, and parents must validate those without fueling them too much. If your child is afraid, you can say something like, “It’s okay to be scared. Going back to school can be scary at first. What are some of the things you’ll get to do at school?” Instead of letting them dwell too long on the fear, turn their attention to the positive things they’ll experience at school.
Even though you may be nervous about sending them to school, work on focusing on the positive aspects of going back. That way, you can model that kind of thinking and behavior to your child to ease their own anxieties. You can also teach them how to take deep breaths to calm themselves while at school.
Separation anxiety is a natural response after getting used to being around family all the time. It is typical for young children just starting school, but now even older children show more clinginess.
To help them adjust to spending hours away from you, practice separating from them at home. You can do this by staying in separate rooms for a few hours, allowing them to play games or do a project by themselves, or leaving them with another caretaker. Doing this allows your child to practice more independence as you both prepare for a bigger separation.
Setting up a goodbye routine can help both parents and children feel more secure when it’s time for school. If your child takes the bus, you can hug them and kiss and wave at them from the sidewalk as the bus drives away. At school drop-off, you can drive up, hug them goodbye, and wave before you drive off.
Lingering at the school for too long after drop-off can make separation harder for both you and your child. If they see you, they will want to return to you and fear the unexpected moment when you leave. Setting up a normal drop-off routine will give your child more confidence and feel more secure in saying goodbye because they know what to expect.
Remind Them (And Yourself!) of the Safety Measures
School districts have thoroughly planned months in advance for students returning to school in person. Many have several new rules about mandating masks indoors, not allowing non-school staff on campus, and using hand sanitizer generously throughout the day. Though it’s not a guarantee that your child won’t get sick, the risk is much smaller than without these new rules in place.
Emily currently lives in Orange County, California after spending four years in Illinois and half a year teaching in Florence, Italy. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Knox College and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of San Diego and has taught English to native speakers and ESL students for over three years. When she’s not working as a School Counselor or writing, she enjoys traveling the world, playing instruments, and blogging about Millennial experiences at Long Live the Twenties.