Post-lockdown school anxiety is a real thing. Some kids suffer from school anxiety at the best of times, but with the uncertainty of lockdowns, not to mention the massive social toll, it can be a nightmare for a child to face school again.
A recent analysis of multiple global studies found that the incidence of depression and anxiety amongst children and youth has doubled since the pandemic began, something many parents would be well aware of.
So, what can parents do to help ease post-lockdown school anxiety and facilitate the transition to the classroom?
1 – Ease post-lockdown school anxiety with a normal routine
Once you have a date for the return to school, you can start easing into a normal school routine. This will help your child prepare for the return to the classroom and alleviate the anxiety that goes with a sudden change of routine.
Regular bedtimes are especially important, as is reducing or eliminating the use of screens within an hour or two of bedtime. Blue light is especially disruptive to normal sleep patterns and your child may find it easier to go to sleep if screen time ends two hours before bedtime. A bath or other bedtime routines (a story, a snuggle with a parent, or some other regular activity) can also help energetic little bodies to wind down ready for sleep.
2 – Get creative with a visual calendar
Many children respond well to visual reminders such as a calendar. When you know the date of your return to school, you can create a calendar to help your child know what to expect. Your child can cross each day off the calendar, helping with the transition to school as the day approaches.
3 – Take care of your own mental health
By taking care of your own mental health, your child will benefit. Children have an amazing ability to pick up when parents are stressed or anxious and it affects their own anxiety levels.
Take some time out to practice mindfulness, get some exercise, and do something you find relaxing. Avoid unnecessary stress, and practice being present rather than worrying about the future. Turn off the TV or avoid social media if you find that they impact your anxiety levels.
4 – Be calm and reassuring
If you have concerns about the virus, that’s perfectly natural. It’s a stressful situation that has impacted all of us, and it’s normal to be concerned.
But it’s important to be calm and reassuring when your child is around. Focus on the positives instead of what might go wrong. You can play games with your child that include thinking of things to be thankful for or things you can look forward to in the future. It helps children to manage their post-lockdown school anxiety when they see parents and other adults staying calm.
5 – Be ready for the afternoon meltdown
Yes, it will most likely happen – sorry! An anxious child will often succeed in holding it all together at school only to have everything come out when they get home to their safe place. A school is often a place of many stressors, and a pandemic will only exacerbate the stress.
The best thing to do in this case is to be there physically and emotionally for your child without judgment or condemnation. Find a way to spend some time together to debrief; going for a walk is a great way to get some exercise and talk as you walk.
Post-lockdown school anxiety is to be expected, but being prepared goes a long way to helping your child manage the transition to school again. Take care of yourself, too. You’ve got this!
A paediatric occupational therapist with 20+ years’ experience, my passion is to empower OTs and educators to demystify kids’ behaviour by providing easy-to-implement, hands-on strategies to transform struggling families and kids’ lives so they can thrive.