Back-to-school anxiety has always been there, but after one year in lockdown, it hits differently.
The excitement of a fresh start is overshadowed by the anxiety of post-lockdown life, as schools in the UK are getting ready to welcome back students after one year of online classes. While for some this is a much-awaited return to normality, for others, it’s a reason to be anxious.
Whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher, it’s normal to feel a bit uneasy about this new school year. The pandemic had a deep impact on our lives, and it’s important to acknowledge the range of emotions brought by the reopening of schools.
What causes back-to-school anxiety?
Although one year of social distancing restrictions might not sound like such a long time, experts argue that the lifestyle changes we went through during this time were so impactful that they changed the way we think and behave.
What used to be normal not that long ago now feels like a disruptive change, and you may experience anxiety, fear, and irritability for various reasons:
- Children may have settled at home, studying at their own pace, and going back to the old learning format can bring added pressure. At the same time, children can also experience separation anxiety. For students with learning difficulties and social anxiety, physical classes may require time for readjustment. Teenagers and children who were old enough to understand the nature of the pandemic can also be worried about catching COVID and giving it to more vulnerable relatives.
- Parents may be concerned about their children’s safety and the deployment of safety measures in schools. How often will children be tested? Will classes be socially distanced? What happens if my child catches COVID in school? All these are pertinent questions that every parent has the right to ask before the start of the school year and that can cause worrying and anxiety, especially if the child has pre-existing health conditions or lives in the same household with chronically ill persons.
- Teachers may be uncomfortable about going back to school because there are too many unknowns. Apart from feeling uncomfortable about being in crowded environments, they may also worry about the implementation of safety protocols, supporting the children’s transition, and maintaining communication with parents.
How to cope with back to school anxiety
The transition from online classes to physical classrooms can feel scary, no matter if you’re a student, teacher, or parent. If going back to school gives you anxiety, here are some tips to help you navigate this sensitive time:
- Be open with your child and allow them to express how they are feeling about going back to school. If you notice a change in behaviour, such as refusal to go back to school, irritability, or trouble speaking, acknowledge their emotions and encourage them to talk about them.
- Answer your child’s questions about the coronavirus and what they can do to feel safe at school. Their anxiety might stem from uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
- If you believe that your child could experience separation anxiety, practice separation gradually in the weeks leading up to the start of the term so they can get used to having you around less.
- Balance their anxiety by talking about the positives of going back to school.
- Work on a plan on what your child should do if they experience anxiety while at school. You shouldn’t enforce the idea that home is the only safe place to be if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Instead, teach them relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to get back into the present moment, or encourage them to talk to a teacher.
- If you’re a teacher, go through safety regulations with school management to understand your rights and how to make this transition easier for everyone.
- Rely on other teaching staff for support and communication.
- As a parent, prioritise your personal wellbeing. If you are stressed and anxious about going back to school, your child will pick up on it and feel the same. Focus on the things you can control, not the ones you can’t, and seek healthy coping strategies to manage your anxiety.