As we return to in-person activities, there is, at least, a little anxiety in us all. Everyone’s anxiety is at different levels and caused by different fears and questions, but we all have it.
As with everything, some people are more equipped to deal with it than others. Children are the same. Their anxieties may be coming from a variety of sources (their own thoughts, what they hear and see, the unknown). Therefore, it is important the adults in their life acknowledge this and help them process what they are experiencing, externally and internally.
While these tips are meant to support our children, they will no doubt also help the adults involved in the process as well.
It is also important to note that the following tips are not exclusive to handling COVID-19 and its related events. These are behaviors that can help children, people in general, become more aware of their feelings and better able to express themselves.
#1 Practice and Discuss Routines. People need routines. Children especially need them. Knowing what to expect reduces anxiety and allows for more success with goal setting and time management. Summertime is typically a little less structured. And if your child was learning virtually for a good portion of the year, that was likely less structured than in-person schooling. As the school year approaches, start implementing bedtimes and wake-up times. As you do this, discuss with your child why these routines are important and necessary.
Another important routine is study and homework time. Though the beginning of the school year may be light on homework and studying, it does provide a great opportunity to get those routines into place before the stress of homework and tests exists. Students can sit down for quiet time or read a book or draw a picture. The idea is to create a physical and mental space that they can get used to.
#2 Set Goal for each week. This is a great practice regardless of the time of year or the situation. When we have goals and when we share those goals we are more likely to accomplish them. These goals do not have to be academic. They can be behavioral, social, mental or physical. They should be small. “This week I would like to sit down and read for 5 minutes each day.” This is a reasonable goal. This is a measurable goal. Setting attainable but important goals allows people to feel a sense of accomplishment and control in their lives. Both of which reduce anxiety and build esteem.
In order for goals to work, people often need accountability partners. Talk with your child each day about their goal, what they have done to achieve it and if they need to adjust it. Bonus point: in addition to your child setting a goal and telling you about it, you can also set a weekly goal and tell them about it. Not only will this serve you well, but your child will see that goals setting and growing do not end in adulthood.
#3 Daily Check-ins. Talk to your child each day about their goals (as mentioned above), but also about their day and more explicitly about how they felt about their day. Questions like: “what was the best part of your day” and “what was the most challenging part of your day” and “who did you play with” can tell you a lot about your child. The answers to these questions can lead to important discussions and allow your child to process their successes, fears and worries. Children often do not have language or experience with expressing themselves, and questions like these help them form that.
Here are some other great questions to ask:
What are some differences between last year and this year?
Teach me something you learned today
What made you laugh today
Did anything frustrate you today
What is something nice you did for something
What is something nice someone did for you
#4 Discuss what they hear and see. Even children who do not watch the news, hear about the news. Teachers and other students may be talking about current events. Children may hear things on the radio, television or internet. While these conversations may seem over their head or things they should not worry about, if they are hearing it, then they are thinking about it. If you are unsure what the appropriate level of conversation is for these topics, reach out to their guidance counselor.
#6 Have fun! Children(and adults) still need relaxation and fun. You and those around your child may be tempted to demand more from them this year to make up for “lost time” in the last year and a half. It is important to remember that everyone has experienced the same “loss,” but also it is important to remember that when we are stressed we are not at our best and learning becomes more difficult. Be sure your child has fun and relaxation each day!
It takes a village. There are supports all around you. Please be sure to use your friends, family, other parents and the school staff to help you navigate this school year.