Managing Back-to-School Stress during the COVID-19 pandemic


Back-to-school stress is a normal occurrence for most children. But this year’s coronavirus outbreak has led to increased anxiety around this already stressful time of year. Here are some tips to help your child or teen manage some of the changes they will encounter this year and the complicated emotions they will face now that they are back at school.

Promote self-care & practice relaxation activities

Self-care is an important part of wellness. Encourage your child to engage in activities that promote self-care and relaxation on a daily basis. It’s important to note that sometimes children may need to take time to discover what activities help them feel good and recharge. So, encourage them to try a variety of activities. Some self-care activity examples include; writing in a journal, colouring/drawing, taking space to listen/dance to music, meditation, watching a movie or reading a book, and keeping active. Relaxation exercises that are important to promote include; deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, or grounding exercises. You can find many guided relaxation activities online or through mobile applications. And don’t forget! Parents need self-care too! Make sure to also create them to engage in your own self-care activities.

Avoid second-hand anxiety

Children and teens are extremely in sync with their parents’ well-being. If you are anxious and make a lot of statements of worry, then most likely your child will pick-up on that anxiety and emulate it. It’s important that parents have a space to express their worries and vent but try as much as possible to do so behind closed doors.

Have open and age-appropriate conversations

Youth are aware that a virus exists, and it has had an impact on their life and school environment. It is important to have an honest, age appropriate discussion with your family about what is happening, procedures that the school is implementing, and how they can help and stay healthy. Not talking about it may cause more anxiety in your child. Begin by finding out what your child(ren) know about the current situation, what they understand, and what information needs to be corrected. In an age appropriate way, answer any questions they may have. It’s ok to say when you do not know something. Tell them you will do some research to find out and get back to them. Its also ok to acknowledge that the situation is stressful for both you and them.

Validate emotions

This is a difficult time for everyone. It’s important to have conversations with your child about their emotions, encourage a space for them to talk, and ask specific questions about their feelings around starting school. For example; you can ask a younger child what they miss/don’t miss about being in school? What they are worried about/excited about in going back to school? You can provide younger children with a fun activity, like colouring, to introduce the topic and keep the conversation flowing. Its also important that when your child/teen is talking about their emotions you don’t go into “problem-solving” mode right away. First step is always to validate how they are feeling. For example, “I can see that you’re feeling X, that’s normal. It’s a difficult time right now.” Help your child with labeling their emotions if you see they are having a hard time identifying how they feel. Finally, try to avoid minimizing how they are feeling (e.g., “just tough it out”), but validate that what they are experiencing is normal in the given situation (e.g., “It’s normal to feel upset when our whole routine is changed, many people are feeling the same way right now”).

Involve students in decisions

Children and teens have very little in their control when it comes to how the school is going to function. Having them involved in some decisions (especially for teens) is very important. Feeling some sense of control helps decrease high stress and difficult emotions. Letting your child choose the colour/design of their mask, having them choose their lunches, or providing choices for social activities are easy ways to provide choices and include your child in the decision-making process.

Equip students with situational knowledge

Talk to your child about the protocols currently in place at the school to keep them safe and the strategies they can take to help maintain that safety. It’s important that your child understands how to properly wash their hands (and to wash hands often), what physical distancing means, and how they can implement it at school. There are many YouTube videos that demonstrate the proper way to wash your hands and the benefits of washing hands regularly. Further, with younger children it might also be helpful to role play scenarios that they might encounter at school.

Monitor media consumption

There is a tremendous amount of information being shared on social media, television, YouTube, etc., that is not always accurate. Further, constantly watching the news and consuming COVID-19 updates and stories can significantly increase anxiety and stress. It’s not only important to monitor your child’s media consumption for accuracy, clarify any new information they receive, but also limit the amount of virus-related media they are consuming.

Keep a routine

Although school protocols and procedures may feel like they are constantly changing, it helps to gain some resemblance of normalcy by controlling the aspects one can control. A routine can help in providing this sense of normalcy and control during the pandemic. Creating transition routines for after school activities like washing their hands when the enter the house, changing their clothes, and engaging in a self-care or relaxation activity can help alleviate anxiety.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

Sleep is essential for many reasons including managing stress, anxiety, and promoting general psychological well-being. Some simple and important sleep hygiene strategies include, keeping a consistent sleep schedule (wake-up and bedtime), schedule your “ideal” amount of sleep hours, limit napping (especially late in the afternoon), reduce electronic use at least 1-2 hours before bed, make the bed a sleep-only zone (i.e., no homework done in bed!), develop a relaxing bedtime routine that can be followed each night, and avoid substances that can interfere with sleep (e.g., caffeinated drinks and foods).

Organize time with friends

Finally, in some school’s students are being separated into classrooms or “pods” that do not change throughout the day. If your child is not in a group with their friends, it is important to organize regular and scheduled physically distant activities and social time outside of schoolSocialization and friendships are extremely important to child and adolescent development and it will help in decreasing your child’s anxiety to know that they will not be missing out on spending time with their friends.

If your child is experience very high levels of stress or anxiety you can also seek professional services which are available in both the private and public sectors.

For additional information on the Quebec back-to-school protocols currently in place visit: – English – French


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