his year’s back-to-school season in the United States is unlike any we have faced during the lifetime of most people alive now. The pandemic of COVID-19 has brought immense anxiety, uncertainty, and fear in both adults and children. The start of a new school year has intensified these feelings.
Marti Baum, a pediatrician at Loma Linda University Children’s Health, says health-care providers are listening to parents express anxiety about the uncertainty around starting the school year. Across the nation, parents are facing issues surrounding sending their child back to school in person or strategizing how to support their child’s learning from home.
“Any predictability we’ve come to count on has been stripped away,” Baum says. “It can be overwhelming to be faced with so much uncertainty, particularly for families with single parents, with multiple children learning via virtual classrooms, in addition to working parents concerned about how to supervise children now at home.”
Baum says she wants to remind parents, however, that even though we are facing many challenges ahead, we will get through this — it won’t be like this forever.
At least for the first quarter, many schools in California will likely be conducting classes virtually or on a hybrid schedule. Baum encourages parents to be as calm as possible.
“Children take their cues from their parents,” she says. “If parents are openly stressed and overwhelmed with the new school regimen, children will likely become anxious as well, making the entire process more difficult.”
Try to focus on things that reduce stress daily, Baum says. A regular sleep cycle, nutrition plan, and adequate exercise will help both parents and their kids remain focused and functional.
“Creating structure for your kids throughout the day, during school hours and afterward, will keep them regulated and give them specific times during the day to look forward to — such as snack time or recess,” she says.
Another way to reduce daily stress is to turn off the television. “There is such constant information and news about COVID-19 that it creates stress for everyone,” Baum says. “Take an electronic break as often as possible to help create a more positive environment for your entire family.”
Baum serves on the Executive Committee for the Council on School Health of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She and other experts are in weekly discussions about the start of school. “We want kids to be able to go back to school physically, but we want to do so as safely as we possibly can,” she says. “The AAP is using data from other countries and actively discussing the safest solution. More and more data is coming in constantly, giving schools of all counties better instructions on how best to proceed.”
While the situation remains difficult, Baum knows parents will face these back-to-school challenges with creativity. “Some families might create learning micro-pods for kids versus some families might continue educating their children alone,” she says. “Parents are immensely creative in finding the best options for their kids.”
Baum encourages parents not to be overwhelmed with every new safety checklist. Instead, they should remember and stick to the guiding principles outlined by the California Department of Public Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Try to keep these principles in front of you,” she says. “Physically distance, wear a mask, have your child wear a mask, and wash your hands regularly. Feel comfortable knowing that there are so many people in this situation, and together, we will settle in and find a way through.”