Starting a new school year can be an anxiety provoking experience for children every year. This year, however, normal back to school jitters may be more intense due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What if I forget my mask? What if I don’t social distance correctly? If someone gets infected will I be able to see my grandparents? Will I miss my school play or dance again this year? These may be some of the worries children are experiencing.
To get answers to these tough questions, we sat down with one of the areas top children’s Psychologists, Dr. Yosef Posy, Director of Children’s Services at Interborough Developmental and Consultation Center (IDCC), a network of mental health clinics with five locations throughout Brooklyn. Dr. Posy shared with us the following five tips which parents should initiate to help children get back to school with the right mindset.
#1 Be A Model
Research has shown that children often model adult behavior. If parents deal with their own anxiety and model calm behavior it will be much easier to calm a child. When a parent gives the message that we will get through this and the world is ok, the message will filter down to their children
#2 Validate Their Feelings
It is important to validate children’s fears. This is best accomplished by closely listening to what they are afraid of, and acknowledging that their fears are legitimate. Parents should resist the urge to jump in and problem solve, as this may lead to parents addressing their own fears rather than their children. A good rule of thumb is to wait 10 seconds after the child finishes to respond. It is also important to ask questions before rushing to give advice. This will help parents get the information they need to help their children. The general message given should be that their worries are normal and that others share the same fears.
Exposing yourself to the very thing you fear is a critical component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the leading evidence-based non-drug treatment for anxiety. Children can practice going to school like settings where they have to wear masks, social distance, and wash their hands. Children can also role-play scenarios they may be worried about, such as self-advocacy if someone isn’t acting safely (i.e. not wearing a mask, etc.) This is especially important for children with preexisting social anxiety. These children may actually have been relieved when schools went virtual, and will need particular help adjusting to in-person learning.
#4 Develop routines
Routines are generally helpful in reducing anxiety in children. Starting to practice a morning routine which includes COVID-19 related preparation such as hand sanitizing and remembering masks will be helpful in reducing anxiety.
#5 Have a “Plan B”
Due to the uncertainty of the current situation, it is important to plan for the possibility that school will go back to being virtual. Experts suggest keeping some activities such as tutoring online so that if school goes back online it doesn’t feel like everything is lost.
Lastly, it is helpful to try to find meaning in difficult situations. Helping a child identify ways that this will make them stronger may be helpful. Having a child help others with their adjustment when possible can build confidence and help children deal with COVID-19 and whatever else comes their way.
Dr Posy is the director of children’s services at Interborough Developmental & Consultation Center, where he provides staff training on the use of CBT and DBT to staff at the clinic’s five locations. Dr Posy received his doctoral training from Hofstra University and has private practices in Boro Park and Flatbush.
To learn more about Interborough Developmental & Consultation Center and the services they offer visit www.interborough.org or call 718-375-1200.