Episode 26: Back-to-School Anxiety During the Pandemic with Dr. Tamara Soles


“As we shift to going back to school during this pandemic, there is an opportunity for everybody to ask, ‘what do you have control over in your life?'”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Tamara Soles. Tamara is a psychologist specializing in child mental health and well-being. Her practice focuses primarily on coaching parents on how to best support their children in developing resilience. She is the founder and director of The Secure Child clinic, which provides therapy for children, coaching for parents, and workshops and classes. Her website DrTamaraSoles.com has lots of useful content for parents as well as links to her podcast, This Hour Has 50 Minutes.

Dr. Soles and Dr. Joe spoke about:

Connect with Dr. Tamara Soles on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and her website.

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Here are some highlights from their conversation:

What are some of your go-to tips or strategies that you advise people try on when they need to support their children?

As always, regulate yourself first. Make sure that your own anxiety as a parent is in check. I have had clients, even last week, who were saying, ‘My mother has this health condition. And I’m so afraid that I’ll go to school that I’ll forget to put my mask back on. Or I’ll forget to wash my hands after eating.’

They’re taking on so much of that responsibility, and feeling like it’s their burden to keep their parents safe. And trying to help that child and that family put the responsibility where it belongs. In other words, saying, ‘Your parent is aware of their health condition. And they’re aware of the precautions that are being taken by the school. So if they’re choosing to send you, then they are accepting that the level of risk is safe for your family. Which means that they know and trust that you will do the best that you can.’

And especially in a child–yeah, there are going to be times where they don’t remember to wash their hands. And there are going to be times where they don’t put their mask on all of the time.

So helping that burden shift off of the child’s shoulders and onto where it belongs in terms of the responsibility.

So the parent taking care of themselves, helping a child see what is in their control, what’s their responsibility, and then the overall wellness things that we would always talk about. So for example, deep breathing, meditation, using a bed time guided meditation, starting the day with rituals–I think rituals are very grounding practices that help reduce anxiety and build connection, which is the one-two punch for helping a child through any situation.

So when we can for example, start the day with saying the same thing or singing the same song together to get us going in the morning. Those rituals provide predictability to kids. And predictability in these times is so necessary when so much is unpredictable about this virus and our current situation.

So introducing ritual, introducing predictability, introducing meditation or deep breathing, making sure that we’re moving and exercising, fresh air, getting enough sleep. So all of those foundational things that we would do to help treat anxiety in any given situation. It’s just the necessity for it right now is higher.

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:

https://cdn-contenu.quebec.ca/cdn-contenu/adm/min/education/publications-adm/covid-19/plan-rentree-2020-en.pdf?1598463227 – English

https://cdn-contenu.quebec.ca/cdn-contenu/adm/min/education/publications-adm/covid-19/plan-rentree-2020.pdf?1597860080 – French

11 Tips for Mindful Parenting

As parents we are all running the same race: Get ready for work, drop the kids off at school, work hard all day in order to get back early for hockey or piano practice, make dinner, make sure the homework gets done and then crash on the couch once the kids are in bed.

It can be challenging to remain mindful and in the present moment when our daily routine can set us into a chaotic autopilot. In this post, Numinus’s corporate mindfulness program director, and mom of three, Jill Graham proposes 11 tips that you might find helpful in reducing stress and being a more mindful parent.