With the new school year looming, some families might be worried about how well their kids will adjust to having mask policies in place, COVID-19 concerns and getting back into a normal school routine.
With school just days away, Dr. Rosanna Breaux, an assistant psychology professor and Child Study Center director at Virginia Tech, said the new school year brings new challenges.
The stress of the pandemic and going back to school can negatively affect a student’s GPA, attention span and social interactions.
“I think there are far-reaching impacts for everyone,” said Breaux.
During the pandemic, the center performed several studies to examine the impacts the coronavirus pandemic had on children.
One study found that 25% of children in the New River Valley, ages 6 to 18, experienced anxiety and depression during the spring and summer of 2020. Another study determined that within the past year and a half, 20% of 15 to 18-year-olds experienced borderline or clinical levels of traumatic symptoms, including nightmares, trouble sleeping or avoidance.
“What’s concerning about it is that it is such a normative experience right now, that so many children are having this,” said Breaux. “To me, one of those big takeaways is that schools and parents need to be kind of providing additional social-emotional support.”
This kind of chronic stress impacted students with ADHD, learning disorders, autism and those from low-income families. The data showed that Black and Latinx students and younger children were affected the most.
Breaux said some nerves are normal, but recommended that families seek professional help if it becomes severe.
“If it’s starting to get to the point that you’re seeing avoidance of situations, a lot of refusal, upset stomach, headaches, crying, breaking down, that’s when it’s starting to cross over to needing additional help and support,” said Breaux.
To help your kids adjust to the coming school year, Breaux recommends creating a routine, having a consistent sleep schedule—even on weekends—and setting mealtimes with family. She added that it’s also helpful to have a set time for completing homework.
In addition, she suggested that parents help prepare their kids to answer tough questions they may be asked while in school.
“So, if they’re wearing a mask and people give them a hard time about it, so that kind of they’re equipped with, ‘I’m doing this to keep my family safe’ or ‘This is just what I’m supposed to do,’” said Breaux.
Parents can teach kids how to regulate their emotions using deep breathing, mindfulness or other coping skills.
“Things that help the children feel better, be able to deal with those big emotions when they do happen because they are going to happen,” said Breaux.
Although this year may be more challenging, she said kids are resilient.
“Children really are resilient. They are going to bounce back.”