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WKYT Investigates | Back-to-school anxiety

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 2:05 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Heading back to school can be stressful for students.

Heading back to school in the midst of a pandemic, brings its own set of fears and worries.

If you’ve got a list of things to do for the start of the school year, add one more line to it - talk to your kids about going back to class.

“I do think asking kids how they’re feeling about going back to school, if they have any concerns, that’s really helpful,” said Dr. Michelle Martel. University of Kentucky professor.

Dr. Martel says conversations during stressful times are important. Let your children do the talking, she says, and limit your own sharing.

“Definitely avoid discussing your own anxiety because that’s just gonna make your kids feel even more concerned about it,” said Dr. Martel. " Also, I don’t find it that helpful to talk to kids about uncertainty. Saying, ‘oh, this could change, I don’t know what it’s gonna look like.’ Just tell them to the best of your knowledge how things will look.”

This is certainly a year of uncertainty.

“As parents we want to prepare our kids, because when we’re not with them there’s anxiety that something might occur, but if we over prepare kids then we can wind up with anxious kids,” said child psychologist Dr. Katherine Stone.

Dr. Stone was inundated with clients last year who were anxious, depressed, and uncertain. Now, she says a lot of her clients are optimistic about the start of school.

“What we learned from COVID is that our kids are incredibly resilient,” Dr. Stone said. “Yes, we saw more depression and anxiety, but the majority of kids were able to pop in school, pop out of school, wear masks, keep social distance, even if we know that a lot of kids still learned what they needed to learn last year.”

Dr. Martel recommends practicing new normals.

“If your child’s concerned about masking, maybe do a little bit of a trial run with masking, going other places like the park or the grocery store, whatever you’re comfortable with,” Dr. Martel. “For my preschooler, we have a Frozen mask that she really likes to wear and she finds fun to wear.”

Practice is one way to help - reminders, Dr. Stone says, are not as helpful. She is cautioning parents about being overanxious or overbearing in front of their kids.

“Parents that are doing tons of reminders before the kid leaves for school, or when they come home asking multiple times, ‘did you use your hand sanitizer, did you wear your mask, were other people wearing masks?’ Parents that ask a lot of that are going to have kids that are more anxious and they don’t feel safe,” said Dr. Stone.

She tells the parents of her clients to be calm and positive.

“Being back in a school system, and having that social contact, having the structure of school to get your work done, the accountability to teachers not parents has been really helpful to my clients and their mental health,” said Dr. Stone.

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