Going back-to-school is a stressful time for parents during any year, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic. If your child has returned to the classroom, you’re probably feeling all sorts of complicated emotions. On one hand, social isolation has had a very real impact on our young ones’ mental health and social development. On the other hand, you might be stressing about how you’ll protect your family’s health following the return of in-person learning. As a parent, your concerns are completely normal and absolutely warranted – the uncertainty of the situation is bound to provoke anxious feelings for any parent. However daunting the situation may be, it’s still important to find healthy ways to cope with this anxiety for the sake of your own mental health, and that of your child.
Be mindful of how and when you express concern
Children often pick up on their parent’s worries. It’s okay to be feeling afraid about sending your kids back to school, but avoid expressing these concerns around them regularly. It’s important to have an outlet to get these things off of your chest, so find time to talk with trusted friends, your spouse, or mental health professional. Of course, it’s important that your children are aware of risks and what kind of precautions they will take at school, but exacerbating their anxiety may only negatively impact your child’s mental health, and subsequently their education.
Focus on what you can control
Oftentimes, the antidote to anxiety is action. While there are so many aspects of this situation that remain unknown and that are largely out of our hands, the most helpful thing we can do is focus on those things that we do have control over. 6 months into the pandemic, your kids are likely already familiar with recommended safety precautions like frequent hand washing and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks. It’s still important, however, to make sure that your kids understand how this will translate to a school setting. Older children might benefit from having a more in-depth conversation where you can go through B.C.’s Back to School Plan together so that they can know what to expect (or if you’re in a different province, check your area’s back to school guidelines). While this kind of conversation is likely not appropriate for younger children, you can try roleplaying different scenarios with them – what would they do if someone wanted to give them a hug? How would they turn down a friend offering to share a snack with them without hurting anyone’s feelings?
By now, you might be getting sick of hearing about self-care during COVID-19. That being said, the messaging around self-care is so prolific because it really is so important. Keeping in mind the trickle-down effect that anxiety can have on children, it’s important to take steps to care for your own health if you want to protect theirs as well. Not only will your mental health benefit from regular self-care practice, but anxiety also suppresses the immune system; prioritizing your mental health as well as your physical health puts you in the best possible position to fight off viruses and keep your family safe. We know how difficult it can be to find the time for meaningful self-care, and how quickly it can get bumped off the priority list as other matters crop up. Think of self-care like an oxygen mask on an airplane – you have to secure your own mask before you can assist others with theirs. In other words, you have to look after your own mental wellness if you want to be able to fully show up for the ones you love. You might find it helpful to tie 5-10 minutes of self-care to an already-established part of your routine (i.e. doing 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation or journaling while waiting for your morning coffee to brew). Whatever self-care looks like for you, now is the time to put it into practice.
Finally, remember to cut yourself some slack. You’re not a bad parent for feeling uneasy about the situation or not knowing if you’re making the right choices – all any parent can do is respond to the situation at hand in whatever way they think is best for their family, working with whatever information we do have, while trying to find peace with not having all of the answers.