Back to school anxiety and talking to our children

Chaplain’s CornerPadre Rosinski

Padre Marcin Rosinski

Going back to school can cause anxiety and insecurity in children. Here are some tips on how to support them.

Let’s talk to the children about the situation we are in. Let us show that we are with them, that they have support from us as adults. This is crucial for children.

There are children who really miss their peers and school, but some of them in a situation of isolation related to the coronavirus have had a chance to take a break and catch a breath – mainly those for whom school is a difficult experience for various reasons, for whom communing with a peer group is a challenge, children who experience peer violence, bullying or for those who experience a “social phobia”. For them, going back to school will probably be a huge difficulty and challenge.

Can we support the children in their return to school, if it does happen at all? Of course. It is worth talking about how they feel in the current situation, what they need to feel as comfortable in it as possible, and what can be done to make return to school as less burdensome for them as possible.

It is also important that both we, the carers and the children, are aware and understand that fears are natural. That the information that reaches us, for example from the media, may cause us anxiety.

Another side of it are teachers who are themselves in a difficult situation. It would be great if schools had some sort of “model of functioning” after the period of isolation. By such a model, I mean a number of activities that each institution could propose to its students. For example, specially prepared educational lessons, staff openness to communicating the difficulties and needs of students, increased vigilance of psychological and pedagogical teams. And their wider availability. It is important for teachers to talk to children, to say that they know what the situation is, to be open to students, their needs and difficulties, and to talk about the challenges that we all face. It’s good for them to be able to signal their readiness to talk to the child when she/he needs it.

What if lockdown happens again? Are we able to prepare children so that isolation is as little stressful as possible for them? Let us ask our children this question and ask what they would need in such a situation, and what appears to be the greatest difficulty. What we can do is educate and say that the situation is unpredictable. The possible scenarios are very different, but even telling the children that we ourselves have concerns will be such a safety buffer. It is important to talk about what is difficult for us, to discuss possible solutions. We, as adults, will not be able to meet all needs, but just noticing them will be a signal to the child that she/he is not alone, that they can count on us and talk to us.

And how to talk to children? First of all, honestly and openly. Don’t assume anything, be curious about what the children have to say. Suppose, imagine, discuss, and talk about what is happening, talk about our own fears, about what makes us angry. When we tell the child about it, we will give him a signal that he will also be able to talk to us about the same. There are homes where parents rarely talk to their children, and it may seem strange the first time, but it’s worth trying to conquer our own reservations.

But how not to stress or scare the child with our own fears? The best solution is to speak about the facts and to name your emotions. It is worth verifying what our child knows. We can ask them or discuss, for example, about the information we hear while watching the news. We can also use the message “I feel / I think / I wonder how it is with you”, “I imagine that you may feel, for example, lost, confused…”. It is possible that the child will empathize with us, but that also does not mean that she/he will take on our own fear or anxiety. It is worth normalizing emotions, also the difficult ones, and making room for them in everyday conversations.

If we are in a situation where, for example, we are afraid that we will lose our job, it is worth talking about what we are afraid of. The child is likely to worry about us, and this is natural in this situation. It is important to adapt the content and method of providing information to the age of the child.

Worry, nervousness or stress are completely natural and normal reactions to various situations. Sometimes the stress is short-lived, and sometimes it can cause anxiety and other symptoms that hinder the functioning, such as avoiding stressful situations, stomach pains, headaches, etc., and in this case, we should provide specialist support for our child. The starting point, however, is a conversation that gives us the opportunity to continue.