As schools across the nation are set welcome a new normal, many of the young students are returning to their only understanding of school. If they’ve only been in schools for a year or two, less the time spent home for the pandemic, all the precautions to help diminish the spread of COVID-19 are commonplace for them. While the adults are trying to adjust to masking and added disinfection requirements and all the nuances required for minimizing the virus, these students see nothing unusual or foreign in the protocols. To them, it is simply school. However, given the reality of concerns for health and safety due to potentially virulent actors, one can reasonably anticipate that some of the information disseminated via social media and traditional media will filter down to the children. Given this reality, it is paramount that the active adults in a child’s daily life take measures to reassure the child that he or she is going to be ok. It is important to understand that young children may not know exactly what is transpiring it the world around them; however, they are especially adept at picking up on the tone of conversations and worry or fear that it may convey.
Children may interpret this tone as a reason to stay close to their family, resulting in an elevated level of separation anxiety when attending school. According to an article by Caroline Miller of Childmind.org, parents can expect to see some “clinginess in younger kids, or even nine or ten-year-olds,” with kids who were already prone to anxiety to be even more anxious to go back. She recommends validating their concerns without giving the worries too much of an opportunity to expand. For example, sharing something like “I’ll miss you too, but I’m so proud of you for going to school.” It is up to parents to demonstrate a sense of calm and quiet reassurance that it’s going to be a great year, not “Are you really nervous about going to school?”
It is also important to recognize that parents can establish a cohesive support system by speaking privately with their child’s teacher. Letting him or her know that their child may be experiencing some anxiety and what emotional security measures have been taken can do wonders to establish a cohesive plan to help decrease anxiety. Sometimes it could be as simple as a special token, like a fancy eraser or special treat in the lunchbox, just to reassure the child that he or she is loved and safe and that school is just a different type of learning environment available beyond home.
Furthermore, school is a great place for friends to help provide the distraction from fears and concerns of the real world. Cocooned within their classrooms and activity spaces, children can hopefully recognize that they are (quite literally) not alone. Working through these unfamiliar challenges can be completed more successfully and less stressfully together, and in person school offers an excellent opportunity for academic growth paired with the additional social and emotional support of their peers.
Dr. Angela Farmer is a lifelong educator, an author, and a syndicated columnist. She serves Mississippi State University as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Honors Education for the Shackouls Honors College where she can be reached at email@example.com.