Covid is Out, and School is In - Is Your Child Ready?
As the era of Covid slowly winds down, millions of kids are returning to the classroom. Big deal, right? Every August or September it happens - this summer just happened to be a year and a half long with a few online classes sprinkled in.
Well, actually it’s a pretty big deal.
This past year and a half have been traumatizing to some degree for almost everyone, let alone children who have little experience dealing with problems in the world and who rely on authority figures for a sense of safety. After being told for so long to socially distance, wear a mask, constantly sanitize, etc. a lot of these kids are pretty shaken up. Returning to school may be a bit more difficult than the usual “end-of-summer bummer.”
Kids who suffer from pre-existing mental health disorders like anxiety/OCD, PTSD, or depression will likely have the hardest time when school starts. In most of these cases professional help will be paramount in helping them through their obstacles to re-entering the outside world.
But what about the kids with no prior issues who have been stricken with fear solely from recent events? We’ve spoken about Cave syndrome in past blogs: it is the agoraphobic tendency to shut-in due to stressors developed or worsened during the Covid pandemic.
What we have seen in my practice is essentially a kid’s version of Cave syndrome. Instead of worrying about work or running errands, the kids are worried about school.
Even without a tendency towards anxiety, children have seen their routines get disrupted. Some have seen their relatives suffer job loss, financial difficulty, and infection. Some have even seen family members pass away. Know how everyone was talking about the “new normal” a few months ago? Well, there’s nothing normal about it. Now we’re seeing the consequences when treating young patients for anxiety and fear-based problems they may never have had if not for Covid. In a way, it's arrested childhood development.
In very young children, separation from the home/parents can be a big factor made worse by the uncertainty of Covid. Going from homebound isolation to separation can be traumatic in and of itself!
How can we tell?
We can spot difficulties by observing the kids’ functioning. Are they avoidant, do they talk a lot about not wanting to go to school? Are the choices they make based in fear and anxiety as
opposed to rationality and necessity? If they seem like they would rather be grounded than return to school, something may be wrong.
How can we help?
As a good parent, you know your kid and you can do the most important thing right away: talk to them. Speak to them with honesty, love, and care. Let them know that it’s ok to have these feelings, as many people have gone through a hard time as well. In these cases maybe give them a memento to hold onto as a comfort mechanism, or talk to them about the first day of school with a sense of levity and good humor. Framing it in a positive light may work wonders for a small child.
Regardless of age, we need to give our children a sense of support and security while supplying tools for confidence building. After all, we are trying to make them feel better about going off into the world to become well-balanced adults. We can help them to become more mindful of their surroundings, to challenge irrational fears and avoidances, and try their best to do the right thing.
It’s like when a young child cries when the lights are off and the parents walk out of the room. We can’t just stay in the room forever with the lights on. The best choice is to lovingly turn on the lights, TEACH them how to observe and use commonsense...and then slowly allow them to develop their ability to comfort themselves.
In most cases, this will work. Kids can be inconsistent and the changes may not happen right away. But children seem to be quite resilient in the face of adversity. The kids will be alright. The best we can do is prepare ourselves and the young ones for the waiting world.
If your kid is having a hard time and they need professional help, please reach out. Bregman Medical Group offers online psychiatry and therapy right to your device! Simply schedule an appointment at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.
References:https://www.today.com/parents/back-school-separation-anxiety-how-help-your-kids-t188707 https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/03/22/kids-school-reopening-anxiety-help/ https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/starting-preschool/issues/school-anxiety/