The full-throttle return to school is Tuesday after the long weekend and following the initiation of this past week, kids may be feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the changes. Change and uncertainty can lead to anxiety in kids. There are ways that parents can help them cope.
Registered Psychologist, Dr. Patrick Keelan has some helpful tips that parents can implement to help ease their kid's anxiety with the return to school in a pandemic. Dr. Keelan says first and foremost it is important to convey the message, "Emotions like anxiety, anger, frustration, and sadness they are emotions that we all have and it's pretty normal to have them." He says that normalizing the anxiety that children are feeling is step one in helping them cope. Also, by sharing your feelings of anxiety with your kids with regards to COVID 19 and other things helps them to know that they are not alone with their feelings.
Once you and your kids realize and accept the anxieties being felt, then the next step is to have strategies in which to manage it. Dr. Keelan says learning to manage your thoughts can help in alleviating the anxiety. If your child is feeling overwhelmed, "It is often because the individual is not viewing the situation accurately and they may be engaging in catastrophic thinking concerned about some worst-case scenarios which may be unlikely to occur. Or believing that they can't cope with things when they are able to." Parents can help their kids to think in a more accurate and better way.
Another coping strategy is helping kids to focus on things that they can control to give them confidence and make them feel safer. Dr. Keelan says,” In the COVID 19 situation, that obviously involves having the children be aware of what they need to do to keep themselves and others safe. Through social distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands.”
Dr. Keelan recommends the anxiety management technique called the PR Plan which you can use when going into a situation that may cause someone to feel anxious.
Parents can teach their kids to PREDICT, PREPARE, AND PRACTICE.
PREDICT a situation at school that is going to cause anxiety. For example, standing to close to someone and feeling anxious about social distancing.
Next, you help your child to PREPARE for that situation that makes them anxious. This can take the form of an action (like moving away if possible) or saying something. You can also take action internally to calm yourself like taking deep breaths.
PRACTICE is the third PR that parents can help their child with and is about rehearsing the prepared plan. This can be done by talking it out or role-playing. The practice helps the child to readily access the coping strategies.
The PR plan enables the child to meet the situation with confidence which is the tool to face fear. The fear of the unknown and our mind's natural tendency to fear the worse is what creates anxiety. Parent's help their children to practice for sports and study for academic tests preparing them to face their anxiety in unknown situations is no different.
For more information, you can go to Dr. Keelan’s website here.