ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Kids may be facing anxiety and uncertainty as they head back to the classroom, and parents have the difficult task of reassuring children that it’s safe to be away from them, while also encouraging them to be careful.
Some students are returning to school with anxiety, grief, and gaps in social skills. “Keep in mind, kids are still developing,” said neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez. “This is a transient thing for most of us adults, but for children, this is a pretty big shift in their existence in a very formative time.”
A recent study found that rates of depression and anxiety among youth have doubled over the pandemic. Dr. Hafeez, Director of Comprehend the Mind, says mask mandates and social distancing in the classroom may cause a level of uncertainty. “Just having candid, slow conversations in a way that they understand and saying, ‘Look, this isn’t going to be forever,’” she says. “And putting their needs above our own.”
That means putting aside politics. Set the tone by staying positive and validate their feelings. “It’s OK to say to your kid, ‘Listen, buddy, I know it kind of sucks. I’m sorry that you have to wear a mask all day.’ It’s OK to validate their emotions and their feelings because we know,” she said. “I don’t like wearing a mask all day.”
You can lessen anxiety by teaching your child coping skills and helping them build tolerance. “Teaching a child how to put on a mask even at home and practice being in a chair and deep breathing and just sort of getting comfortable with that mask.”
Dr. Hafeez recommends setting aside plenty of time for outdoor socialization. “Say, ‘Let’s go with your friend. Let’s have a play date in the park after school where you guys can take off your masks and play without worrying so much.’ Just to give children some sense of normalcy.”
For many children, she says the excitement of going back to school will outweigh potential anxiety. “Kids are resilient. Kids also need social engagement more than adults do. That’s how they explore their world,” she said. “The majority of the kids have actually missed the social interaction.”
Parents should also monitor their kids for changes in mood, increased irritability, and signs of isolation. If you see this, get in touch with your child’s pediatrician, school psychologist, or counselor who can provide support and give you referrals to community resources.