How to help our kids with back to school / COVID anxiety

My kids are ten and eight, and like just about all kids of that age, they are back to school. This is… nerve-wracking. Okay, as a parent, despite my best efforts, it is ALWAYS nerve-wracking. I’m not the only one I am sure, but every time I drop my kids off at school, it kinda feels like my heart skips a nip. Part of the time, I guess. The fact that they go to a Jewish Day School probably doesn’t help the anxiety, all things considered. But, in the years they have gone there, it has been a wonderful place, and they love it.

Anyway, this year is obviously slightly different than most – even different than last year, when we thought things would be more normal now. Alas, they aren’t, and this begs the question: What can we do for our kids? Now that they are back in school, or will be shortly, how can we help them cope with the added anxiety that this year will bring? 

I’ve had a few thoughts in my head and also done some research. Here’s what I can glean.

First, my own experience: Be honest with them. Obviously, that honesty has to be tempered by how old and mature that kid is. But my kids have found comfort in the reality of the situation. I’ve been honest: I can’t guarantee they won’t get COVID or that someone they love won’t get it. But, everyone who loves them has been vaccinated, and this virtually guarantees that we’d survive getting sick. Furthermore, even if they get sick, the vast majority of kids who get sick are okay. That is not to minimize the risks, but it does help put things in perspective. That seems to help.

Second, make sure not to take away a kids’ sense of agency or control. That has to be tempered with realism, and unfortunately, as we all know, even the most careful of people can get COVID. That being said, there are lots of things they can do: Wear masks, keep their distance, wash their hands, all that. Anxiety is largely a result of learned helplessness and making sure kids know that they can influence their own safety can help them feel better.

Third, use this as a teachable moment. The Child Mind Institute article that I highlighted notes that anxiety isn’t going to be “resolved,” per se – it’s about making sure our kids know that there is uncertainty in this world. Broaden the scope of this conversation. There are things you and your kids can do to minimize your risks and prevent getting sick, but beyond that…you live as best you can. This helps to make sure your kids know they are doing everything possible, but from there, they have to tolerate the uncertainty that comes with life. 

Fourth, make sure to be a good role model. Tell your kids when you are anxious – but also tell them how you are coping. This is just our style of parenting, but my wife and I have found that honesty works with our kids. We never really try to hide our struggles or our mistakes – instead, we show how we are trying to make them better. 

Last, remember, listening helps. As a parent, you’d give anything to keep your kids safe, but the truth is that you can’t 100% guarantee their safety, regardless of whether or not there is a pandemic going on. Alas, we can’t make that guarantee, and kids know it. As such, sometimes, all you can do is listen. We can’t make guarantees, but things like reminding kids that they have control over quite a bit of their lives and that we are there to help – that matters. As such, listen to their fears. Validate them. And, if your kids want, try to work on solutions together. 

These are just a few of the tips out there, and there are plenty of more. Have anything to add? Let us know in the comments!

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