As the date for starting back to school approaches, my 11-year-old daughter is getting more and more anxious. She has noticed the rise in Coronavirus cases over the last few weeks and is asking me constantly if she will be safe in school. I tell her that the teachers will have a plan and that everyone will be careful. In truth though, I don’t know yet what the school plan is and I too have little faith that every other family will be giving the same messages to their kids about hygiene etc. Have you any advice on how to help her deal with her anxiety?
It is easy to underestimate the degree to which going back to school will be an enormous transition for children and teachers. Your daughter is unlikely to be alone in her worries about the virus. She and other children may also take time to adapt to the potential “strangeness” of having to act differently in an, otherwise, familiar environment, with regard to social distancing or hygiene etiquette.
You sound like you also feel uncertain, and possibly anxious, about your daughter’s safety in school. You may feel limited in what you can say to support her if the school protocols are not yet clear. Your own worries may make it much harder to help your daughter to cope with her worries. The more we, adults, can regulate our own anxieties the more open we can be open to validating the emotional experiences of children.
When it comes to anxiety, many parents will try to reassure their child, without first acknowledging the fears that their child has. This step, of guessing at their extent and nature of their feelings, is even more important when we aren’t actually in a position to reassure them.
When it comes to your daughter’s personal safety, with regard to catching the virus, or spreading it to family members, you cannot offer a blanket guarantee that all will be well. It is possible, if unlikely, that your daughter may come into contact with the virus through her school attendance.
Indeed, the unpredictability about how school will actually function, may be adding to your daughter’s anxiety. So, in your acknowledgement of her anxiety about going back to school, you can also empathise with how hard it may be for her to not know what arrangements may be in place, and what will be expected of her and her classmates.
When you have shown your daughter that you may fully understand the nature and extent of her worries about school, you can then remind her of the things that she will have control over, namely her own behaviour in school, with regard to keeping a physical distance, regular washing or sanitising of her hands and following whatever rules the school does adopt about movement through the buildings and so on.
Children are adaptable and resilient, and we can facilitate them to adopt a positive approach to things. We can encourage them to give things a go, to remember the fun things, like being with friends, rather than only focusing on difficulties. Your belief in your daughter’s ability to cope with the return to school, may bolster her belief in herself.