How to manage anxiety in your family about going back to school

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — These are anxious times for many students, teachers, and parents as in-person learning has resumed for the first time in six months.

With only some students and teachers back in classrooms and so many unknowns about the virus, there is a chance remote learning might return at some point for a larger portion of the population. Being prepared for every possible scenario is key, according to Dr. Jennifer Jencks from Bradley Hospital in Providence.

“The amount of anxiety that we are seeing and the amount of phone calls that we have been getting to our Kids Link hotline has really gone up dramatically,” Jencks said.

Jencks is the director of the Access Center at Bradley and the assistant director of Lifespan Pediatric Behavioral Health Emergency Services.

“I think most kids have the resiliency to rebound from whatever comes their way,” she said. “I think as we get older, it gets harder to be more resilient, so I think there are a lot of adults that are struggling even more than the kids.”

Back in March, the decision about staying home and learning virtually was made by Gov. Gina Raimondo for every family. Now, six months later, many families have been given the choice of choosing virtual learning, hybrid learning, or going back full time.

Being forced to choose an option can often add even more stress.

“I think one of the healthiest things families can do is talk with their kids and involve them in an age-appropriate way in the decision making, to explain how they are making the decisions, as opposed to saying ‘this is what you are doing,'” Jencks said.

How parents have these discussions with children is also important.

“They are reading you at all times to see if things are going to be OK, and it’s not always necessarily the language they use, it’s how the parents are conducting themselves,” Jencks added. “If they are speaking rapidly with a very agitated voice, kids are going to pick up that things aren’t OK. Even if they say it’s going to be fine, they aren’t going to believe the tone of the voice.”

Below are some helpful tips for families:

  • Prepare a space for homeschooling even if your child is going back to class
  • Always have a backup child care option
  • Make sure your family is flexible since there many unknowns
  • Eating healthy helps manage stress

“One of the most important things parents and teachers can be is reassuring to the kids, that there are a lot of parents involved and experts involved that care about the kids and want the best thing for them and are working to put that in place,” Jencks said. “That alone will create a resiliency and protection from the trauma of this experience overall.”

In addition to a good diet for kids and parents to manage stress and anxiety, Jencks said one of the best coping skills to reduce them is to exercise, which can help release some of that negative energy from your body.

Back to School coverage all this week on 12 News Now This Morning

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