Nervous About the Upcoming School Year? How to Calm Anxiety Amid Another Surge of COVID-19
There are currently 16 patients being treated at Cook Children’s Medical Center for COVID-19, and medical professionals worry the new school year could drive hospitalizations up even further. Just weeks before students head back to class in person, COVID-19 cases are on a trajectory not seen since November 2020.
The rising number of COVID-19 cases in North Texas is due to the delta variant, which is more contagious than other strains of COVID-19, and a significant number of unvaccinated people. With Texas doing away with virtual learning this school year and the COVID-19 vaccine not yet available for those under 12, many parents and children are understandably feeling anxious.
Amanda Jordan, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist at Cook Children’s Alliance, can relate. She has a child starting kindergarten in the fall and is experiencing similar feelings.
“I want parents to understand you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first,” Dr. Jordan said. “You have to check in with yourself first to see how you’re feeling because you don’t want your children to pick up on your negative energy.”
As for parents, Dr. Jordan says it is important to engage with other parents, make sure to create and maintain their own schedule, talk with their partner/spouse and seek professional help when necessary.
Dr. Jordan says once parents have worked through their anxiety, it is good to start preparing children for their ‘new normal’ as early as possible. She says it’s important to pose open-ended questions such as, “I wonder what your first day will be like?” or “I wonder who your teacher will be this year?” These types of questions allow your child to open up about how they’re feeling and can lead to other questions or concerns they may have.
Dr. Jordan also stresses the importance of establishing a routine as school beings again because many children have been off of their schedule for more than a year. This routine includes bedtimes, meal times, changing eating habits, etc.
“There has been so much flexibility with virtual learning,” Dr. Jordan said. “Children have been going to bed and waking up later than normal, and could do their work at their own pace.”
She says starting a ‘school year’ routine before school officially starts can help ease some of the anxiety on the parents and children.
Another technique Dr. Jordan recommends to parents is called ‘Name it to tame it.’
“It is important to help children put a name on their feelings,” she said. “As parents, we want to fix things and say things like ‘don’t be scared’ or ‘you’re going to be fine,’ but you must validate their feelings.”
Dr. Jordan says to respond to children by validating their feelings and letting them know you understand how they feel and let them know they always have a safe space to express their feelings.
Along with the anxiety of returning to school, medical professionals at Cook Children’s are also getting questions about children wearing masks in the classrooms. Alice Phillips, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician at Cook Children’s Cityview says she stands behind the recent recommendations from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that all children K-12 should wear masks in classrooms this school year.
“I believe children need to be in school for their social skills, mental health, and other key personal connections,” Dr. Phillips said. “I recognize it’s a hot topic, but for students to stay in school without shutdowns or quarantines, we must do it safely.”
Dr. Phillips says the new delta variant is spreading rapidly in our unvaccinated population. At Cook Children’s we have seen a rise in the number of children testing positive for COVID as well as an increase in the number of children being hospitalized. For this reason, she believes it is even more important to make sure all children have masks on in the classroom, no matter their vaccination status.
“Parents have to begin modeling mask-wearing behavior at home, and support their children if they feel pressured to do otherwise by their peers,” Dr. Phillips said.
To prepare children to wear masks in the classroom, she says it’s important to explain to children the reality of doing ‘hard things,’ for our friends and communities. Equally important is providing encouragement to children when they're doing the right thing.
“I understand that it’s hard to be brave sometimes,” Dr. Phillips said. “The best we can do is encourage, support, and validate children’s feelings and let them know the ‘why’ behind masking and the importance of keeping themselves and others safe.”
Dr. Phillips says her advice to all adults is to get vaccinated and be an example. She advises all adults to wear a mask when they are in the grocery store and other public settings as recommended by the current CDC guidelines,
“If parents are vaccinated and their children are not, I still advise the entire family to mask up to support the child and protect them,” she said.
If you have any questions about preparing for your children to head back to the classroom or need guidance for masking, contact your child’s pediatrician.
Read more about preparing for the upcoming school year here:
Cook Children's 10-Point Guide for Safely Reopening Schools
Should My Child Wear a Mask to School this Fall?