This year, parents are the ones with back-to-school anxiety. Cortisol levels have been rising since the announcement was made schools through-out Canada would be open in the fall.

To send or not to send? That has been the question.

Now, we are on pins and needles about this second wave, and what it will bring in the months to come. So far, there have been six Covid exposures (positive cases) at 3 different schools in our area since schools opened in September.

Quebec has already shut down a few of their hardest hit regions, yet schools have remained open in those areas, causing concern amongst parents.

Given everything – the uncertainty around Covid-19, the daunting stats, and worrisome news –  it’s easy to understand how for many, sending and keeping their children at school has not been an easy decision.

Last week, the BC Health Ministry removed a few symptoms from the morning screening list, including a stuffy or runny nose, a sore throat, and sneezing. This is a relief.  The thought of having to test a child for Covid every time he or she comes home from school with a runny nose has been overwhelming.

Parents are STRESSED.

Kids on the other hand have been excited to be back at school, having been starved for social interaction and mental stimulation, longing for some level of normalcy.

 

As parents, we want the same thing. Normalcy. But we can’t help but worry despite all the safety measures taken at school.

For some parents, there has not been an issue; schools are open, kids go to school, and that’s that.

Others are still quite conflicted. Do they keep their children in the classroom and risk them getting COVID-19 or possibly infecting others? Or keep them home, with the risk of mental health issues, social isolation, and challenges with remote learning?

Some parents have enrolled their children with the caveat that they will pull them out at the slightest whisper of a reported case or possibility of outbreak.

Others have made the decision to keep their kids at home. Fearing the risks are too high to send their kids to school they have explored alternatives such as homeschooling (either as a family or within a small group), or have hired private tutors. The demands for private teachers and tutoring companies is through the roof and both are proving difficult to get!

It’s even worse in homes where parents disagree about what to do next. In divided families, it can be a battleground when deciding whether a child stays home or goes to school.

So, let’s accept it. It is completely normal to feel stressed out right now.

Nataxja Cini is an Ottawa-based therapist and founder of Family-Therapy.ca. She says “parents need to be aware and accept the fact that it’s a moving target this year. It’s so uncertain for everybody and just acknowledge that. It’s okay to feel insecure about your choices. You have to make the decision that’s right for you.”

She emphasizes that anxiety is contagious. Children can pick up on your energy quickly and start to feel the same. So, while it’s understandable to be stressed, try and mitigate it best you can so that you are not dealing with your own anxiety plus theirs.

I think it starts with talking to children specifically about the differences between this year and past years; what the changes are and why such changes are necessary. You might feel better knowing they are prepared for what might be ahead.

For younger children, talk about changes, such as wearing masks, extra handwashing and sanitizing. “Do situational roleplaying with the children: what happens if someone wants to give you a hug? What happens if you see somebody crying in class? Also, how to say no to your friends without rejecting the.” Cini points out.

Be prepared for kids to make mistakes. They may lose their masks and sanitizers along with their pencil cases and water bottles. Cini says, “It’s about responding and not reacting to situations.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy believes we need to be practical. “We have to temper our fears and recognize if we do a really good job maintaining community transmission at a very low rate, there’s no reason to believe why we can’t have schools’ function and operate successfully. The goal is not to prevent COVID-19 from getting into the school environment at all, because that’s simply not possible. The goal should be to minimize the spread and prevent a wide base of transmission.

In the meantime, let’s keep in mind we are all in the same boat. Here are a few tips we’ve unearthed to help keep us all stay sane and calm.

  • Talk it out: with your kids about staying safe, your friends about how you’re feeling, your partner about parenting, teachers and school faculty about safety guidelines, other parents to share information. Talking helps.
  • Keep sanitizing. Hygiene helps.
  • Anxiety is contagious. Spare your kids. Meditate and do breathing exercises to stay calm.
  • Learn the facts
  • Do enjoyable things that calm you: take a bubble bath, read books you love, watch a movie.
  • Be organized, prepared, and on time. No point adding acute stress to your chronic stress. Make sure your kids are ready each day with all their supplies, uniforms, clothes, lunches, snacks.
  • Check-in with yourself. Be positive. Use positive words, think positive thoughts. Teach the same to your children.
  • Talk to a mental health professional if you or your child experience prolonged anxiety
  • Get plenty of sleep!

Sharing these tips takes me back to early March, when the initial onset of Covid-19 shocked our economy, our way of life, and as a result, our mental health. Panic set in while life as we knew it shut down.

But as time passed we acclimatized and adapted. We banded together via Zoom, stayed at home, socially distanced and flattened the curve here in B.C.

We adjusted then, and we will adjust now. We will adapt to new protocols and new measures, both parents and children alike. The nerves will settle and hopefully, we will come out the other end safe and somewhat closer to what once was. Hopefully sooner than later.

It’s been a few weeks now the kids have been back at school…how do you feel? Where do you stand?