For Parents Fighting School Anxiety During a Pandemic
Parenting during a pandemic brings unprecedented challenges that are being amplified as families transition from summer to school.
While the full impact is yet to be seen, experts are saying that we’re living in a state of constant anxiety fueled by uncertainty and fear — and this has inevitable consequences for our mental health.
www.drjen.com, nationally recognized child, adolescent, and family psychologist offers advice on how to manage the many complex, competing demands of this year’s back-to-school season.
Hartstein reminds parents of the old adage that when the oxygen mask drops on a plane, you need to secure yours first.
“Everybody is focusing on what we should do for kids, and my first and most important response is to slow down,” she says.
“We’re all rushing and rushing to make decisions and then we have to pivot to a new decision as things change,” says Hartstein. “Slow down. Everything can wait a couple minutes. Nothing is so urgent that it has to be decided yesterday.”
“Get yourself grounded,” she says.
“Then, think about what you need to do and what has to happen. Step one may be talking to your partner, if you have a partner, about who is going to be responsible for what and coming up with an old school chore wheel,” says Hartstein.
‘Talk to your employer’
If you’re a working parent, Hartstein says it’s a good idea to talk to your workplace about what kind of flexibility they can offer so you can be prepared.
“Things are changing,” she says. “Some are starting in school and then getting sent home from school. Some are doing a blend of in person and virtual, and some are only virtual.”
She says that as the school year progresses, parents should prepare for more changes, too.
“So ask your employer, for example, if you can start that meeting later so you can get your kids set up with their school projects first,” she says.
Of course, every parent’s situation will depend on various factors including children’s ages. Staying flexible and open to establishing and changing routines is important.
“As much as kids need routine, uncertainty and a lack of structure makes us all anxious,” she says.
Hartstein advises all parents to develop and maintain a healthy routine, and this includes making time for exercising, eating, and getting adequate sleep.
‘Find your pod’
While social distancing is a key factor in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this does not mean parenting should be done in total isolation. This is particularly crucial for single parents.
“If you have people in your life who you know are following the guidelines the way you follow the guidelines, include them,” says Hartstein.
For example, she says, “Maybe you have a little group of other single parents, and you want to work together to rotate houses where someone takes one day and someone else takes the next.”
“Open that pod a little bit so it’s not only on your shoulders, which can feel really overwhelming and shut you down,” says Hartstein.
‘Trust your gut’
When it comes to anxieties about whether or not to send your child to school, Harstein says you have to trust your gut and remember that just because someone else chooses one way, it doesn’t mean you need to follow.
“We want kids to be the best prepared and ready as they can in their lives and I understand the urge to send them back to school,” she says.
“We know that kids need social interaction and at the end of the day we want them to be around other people, and we understand the risks [of not sending them back.]”
“But in the end, if you’re emotional and you’re in an area where the numbers are high or you have someone you love who is immunocompromised, it might make sense not to send them back to school if it’s going to put other things at risk,” says Hartstein.
“If you’re going to be constantly in a state of fear, check yourself. Listen to your gut and think about what is best for your family rather than what is the norm,” she says.