GETTING ‘SCHOOLED’ IN ANXIETY

As school ‘officially’ resumes next week, anxiety levels will be running high – both for kids and parents.

Between OneNote outages and perpetual re-directing from the X-box back to Mathletics, parents have gained a deeper appreciation for our nation’s teachers. Knowing looks have been traded at Woolworths, while Dan Murphy’s (perhaps coincidentally) has reported record sales.

In short, parents are exhausted from home schooling, working, keeping the home fires burning and managing their own worries simultaneously. School resuming should be a reprieve, right?

Actually, many parents will feel a lot of anxiety around sending their kids back to such a heavily-populated environment. They may worry that social distancing and hygiene measures will be difficult to enforce amongst large groups of children. Or they may simply not agree with the Government’s decision to re-open schools.

Similarly, while many kids can’t wait to see their friends again, they may already be experiencing increased anxiety. Public places and ‘other’ people have been communicated to them as ‘unsafe’ for several months now by news outlets, social media, direct observation and parental behaviour. Additionally, they may feel completely disconnected from friends and their normal routine.

Honestly, it’s going to be a challenge helping kids transition back to school. They may exhibit a range of behavioural changes - which can be difficult to manage or a cause for concern - if we don’t support them in their return to ‘normal’.

So, how do we make our children feel safe, when we’re really worried they won’t be?

  • Encourage your children to share their concerns and validate their feelings. Reassure them that you understand how they might be feeling, that this is normal and that they are and will be OK.
  • Dig deep. Talk to your children and find out if they have any underlying concerns. For example, are they worried that they might infect you? Remind them that you, as the adult, have got things under control. Demonstrate this by following the necessary hygiene and social distancing requirements.
  • Give them the facts. You may be surprised to learn how much information your children have accessed about COVID, either online or through friends. There is a lot of alarmist misinformation circulating. Find a reputable site to share with them, which highlights facts on the progress Australia has made.
  • Call in the experts. Reassure your children that the medical experts would not let them return to school unless they believed, through extensive research, that it was safe to do so.  
  • Keep your own anxiety in check. Remember that, as a parent, your concern is natural. However, it is not helpful to share this with your kids. In the same way you’ve reassured your children, seek your own support person – friend or professional – to combat your anxiety.
  • Don’t give in to protests. On the first day (or night before), kids may start feeling ‘unwell’ or demonstrating angry/difficult behaviour. This could be an avoidance strategy or the affects of anxiety. Either way, reassure them that they will settle in more easily by returning the same day as the other kids.
  • Remind them they’re not alone. Remembering that many other kids will be feeling the same will help them feel normalised and provide a common ground to re-build any relationships that have become disconnected during COVID. You could even organise a playdate the weekend before with a few friends.
  • Plan for success. If your child is particularly struggling, link them in with the school counsellor/support staff ahead of time and let them know how/where they can access support. Have their favourite school lunch ready. Make sure their belongings are organised and their school work is up to date. They do not need additional stress on the first day.
  • Stay in touch. If your child has phone or email access, send them a message of support that they can read in their lunchbreak. Or tuck a note into their lunchbox. This should be brief and uplifting.
  • Be patient. Keeping your cool while maintaining normal boundaries is the best way to make your kids feel safe. Remember, they aren’t going back to school after the holidays. This has been an unusually distressing time and it may take everyone a while to adjust.
  • Put your feet up. If you’re not working, spend your first child-free day practicing self-care. You will then have the patience and energy to best support them at the end of the day.
  • Keep checking in - both with the kids and yourself. Remind your children they are normal and doing a great job adjusting to an abnormal situation. Don’t forget to give yourself the same pat on the back!

If you’re struggling, ask for help. In an emergency call 000. Call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Parentline on 1300 301 300 or Lifeline on 13 11 14 any time for free.

Artius Health offers appointments for adults, children and families with qualified, experienced Psychologists via Telehealth, no matter where you are in Australia. Face-to-face appointments are available at our clinics throughout QLD.

If you have a Health Care Card, Pension/Concession Card or are economically disadvantaged due to COVID-19, we are here to help. We currently bulk-bill these appointments. Ask your GP for a referral or Mental Health Care Plan to access the Medicare rebate.

Phone 1300 986 886 or email health@artius.com.au to make your appointment today. Visit www.artius.com.au for more information.