Originally written by staff experts at Cedars-Sinai

Going back to school can be stressful for any child—especially for kids living through the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to the classroom.

A year of remote learning has taken an emotional, mental and developmental toll. Many children have fallen behind in their studies, missed out on big milestones and suffered from a lack of peer interaction that helps develop crucial social skills.

Dr. Monk shares how to support your children during a return to in-person school—and how to cope with your own fears and anxieties—to ensure a successful transition.

Know the facts and what to expect

First, be informed about the real risks and benefits of a return to in-person school during the ongoing pandemic. Consult reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about how the virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted and requirements for schools to reopen safely.

Be prepared for increased caution over kids' health, especially younger students. Children with runny noses, coughs and fevers, despite the cause, will be required to stay home until they're well. If a peer tests positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, schools may need to shut down for a period in the hopes of avoiding an outbreak.

"Closing down frequently can be hard emotionally—kids could be in school one day doing great, and then out for 10 days for a quarantine," Dr. Monk says. "Children are stressed about falling behind in classwork and not being able to keep up."

Observe your child's behavior

Whether you anticipate your student will thrive in the classroom or you worry about a tough reentry, pay attention to their behaviors.

While some kids will be excited to meet their peers and teachers, other young children who've adjusted to isolation may feel overwhelmed in a new social environment.

Watch for signs of depression: Children may become withdrawn, develop eating disorders or anxiety around food, and their stress might manifest in abdominal or other physical pain. Kids who have been cyberbullied during virtual learning, especially, will undergo emotional strain in social settings.

"These problems can affect learning," Dr. Monk says. "Even though in-person learning is usually best for their physical and mental health overall, it could take a while for them to adapt back. Kids are resilient, but they also have emotions without the maturity to process those emotions in a healthy way."

Communicate openly

No matter your child's reaction to in-person school, foster open conversations.

"Keep checking in with your kids," Dr. Monk says. "Ask them how they're doing and let them know how you're feeling as well."

If they express fear or anxiety, validate their feelings—your support can help them continue to be honest with you, so that you're aware of and able to address issues. At the same time, reassure kids that schools are following public health guidelines.

"Sometimes parents are excited to get kids back in school, but the kids are not," Dr. Monk says. "If your child is reluctant to return, even if you have different views, try to make them feel confident you're doing everything in your power to keep them safe and comfortable."

Make the right decision for your family

Some kids might not be ready for in-person learning—for example, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be flourishing in home learning, away from distractions. Other kids who live in multigenerational housing with at-risk family members are worried about contracting the virus at school and infecting parents and grandparents.

"For families who are not sure they're ready, they can weigh the risks and benefits and determine if virtual learning is still the best model for them," Dr. Monk says. "Explore the option of continuing virtual learning until you feel safe."

For parents who rely on school services such as tutoring, speech and occupational therapy and counselors, the return to school will be crucially important.

"A lot of people are anticipating in-person learning with open arms and can't get back fast enough," Dr. Monk says. "It's disheartening that the kids who need support are falling behind, and those families will really benefit from having those services again."

Originally posted by Cedars-Sinai: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/school-anxiety.html

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