Tips for coping with back-to-school anxiety after a pandemic

By Marissa Will

The start of a new school year can trigger anxiety even during a “normal” school year, but more so after a global pandemic. Going into my eighth first day of school as a teacher, I know this new year will be a very unique one. Here are some tips to consider as you get your children ready for the transition back to in-person instruction.

Establish a routine early.

Some children went a whole school year learning from home. Sleep cycles are off track, alarms might need to shift and a fun-filled summer could make reintegrating back to in-person school even more difficult. Even as a teacher, I need to prepare myself by starting my back-to-school routine at least a week in advance. Planning in advance will help reduce fatigue or stress when the routine is forced upon us.

Talk about school constantly.

Remind your child about the fun parts of school — like social interaction, art classes and making friends. Our children may be too anxious or nervous to remember that there is fun in learning and may need some help in reframing their negative thoughts into a positive outlook. Another suggestion: Read looks at bedtime about the first day or school or watch shows that explore this topic.

Check in on their emotions.

After our children’s usual structure was disrupted last year, it’s a good idea to proactively check in on their mental health. Look for signs and symptoms that are out of the norm and regularly ask them how they are feeling. Worksheets like this one are also a great tool to allow children to freely express themselves without becoming too overwhelmed.

Go over the basics.

As parents, we assume our children can just bounce back, but that is not always the case. It is important that we go over the basic rituals such as brushing their teeth and packing their snacks or lunches. The re-entry to in-person schools won’t be perfect, but it can be useful to create a short checklist for them that they can refer to when school starts.

Familiarize yourself with any new school rules.

If masks are mandatory or optional, make sure you go over all of those expectations with your child prior to the first day of school. Some schools have adopted new rules or routines and it is a great idea to go over those with your child before they return. Children and families should try to stay flexible as schools work out which protocols work best for their community.

Above all, remind your child that they are safe returning to school, and validate any feelings they may have.

If we, as parents, seem like we are secure and confident in the choice to return, that helps our children feel the same way. Continue to check in with your child as the school year progresses and discuss any concerns with your child’s teachers. As a teacher, I am always happy to help make a child feel more secure and comfortable — especially because we can’t always see what they’re feeling. Working as a team will make this transition a much smoother one.

What tips are you implementing at home to prepare for the first day of school? Share with us on Twitter by tagging @ArizonaEducator or #AZPBSKIDS and tag @azpbskids on Facebook.

About the author

headshot of woman smiling with brown hair wearing a green lace blouse.

Marissa Will is the mother of two toddlers, Olivia (4) and Logan (2). Writing was her first passion: she’s a freelance writer and a Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication alumna. Will is currently educating the future leaders of tomorrow: She has spent the past eight years teaching third grade with a master’s degree in elementary education from Northern Arizona University-Yuma.

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