Heads up: kids are super stressed right now

art by @instachaaz

We’re going back to school full-time in a couple of weeks, and we are NOT happy about it. Hybrid schooling has worked really well for our family.

I know we’re not alone in dreading this change.

Around the country, many school districts are returning to school in person five days a week for students who have been doing hybrid or at-home schooling for the past year.

While this may seem like a good thing to some, especially working parents who have struggled with childcare and distance learning during this hellscape of a year, going back to a normal school schedule during Covid may be extremely stressful to the kiddos themselves.

If you have a child who is highly sensitive or prone to anxiety – or both, as they often go hand in hand – your kiddo may be feeling a variety of things right now including stress, panic, anxiety and fear.

Going back to school full-time after a year of hybrid or at-home schooling is somewhat akin to starting a new school year, only worse. Even though we’re in the middle of the academic year, there will be a lot of changes and uncertainty.

Kids will have new classmates, new routines and new dynamics to work through. Students may be reunited with friends they haven’t seen all year, but they may also see people they haven’t missed and don’t want to be around – like bullies or frenemies.

Many kids are also shouldering the very real fear that, with twice the kids in the classroom in many cases, it may not be possible to socially distance like they have been doing up until this point. I know lots of teachers and parents share this concern, too.

Bottom line, the time we’re in right now is piling a lot onto kids. It’s like back-to-school anxiety on steroids, and many students are suffering.

If your kiddo, like mine, is feeling heightened levels of school-related anxiety, I have collected great tips and techniques shared with us by our school counselor, therapist and other pros in our lives.

1. Watch for signs that your child may be stressed. Childhood stress is a very real thing and can manifest in both physical and emotional or behavioral ways. Check out this list of things to watch out for, and pay close attention to your child. In addition, check in with kids and ask how they are feeling, what they think about going back to school full time and what are some things they’re looking forward to or grateful for.

2. Build a support network you and your child can rely upon. This may include your school counselor, a therapist and/or other trusted adults they and you can talk to. Talking about feelings and worries helps deflate them and ground us. We can all get caught up in our heads with worry and stress, making things seem far worse than they really are. Bringing our fears out into the light of day and practicing “what if” scenarios with a trusted friend or support person can do a world of good. Journaling can also help during those times when there simply isn’t another person to talk things out with.

3. Take some long, slow, deep breaths. In the face of immediate stress, anxiety or worry, meditative breathing is always our first go-to. Breathing slowly and intentionally makes everything seem a bit more manageable. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot! There are many free apps to help with this, and tons of great articles about the benefits of deep breathing practices.

4. Practice self-care together. Self-care can mean different things to different people, but there’s never been a time when we needed it more. Z and I have been doing “Self-care Sundays” together. Sometimes it’s a foot scrub, sitting side by side with our feet in the bathtub. Sometimes it’s facials, standing and laughing together in the bathroom mirror. Other times we go for a walk at the mall and stop at our favorite plants and crystals shop. Or, maybe it’s a pint of Jeni’s ice cream with two spoons. Whatever self-care looks like for your family, remember that your kiddo needs it as much as you do.

5. Go for a walk out in nature – especially on sunny days. We have days occasionally where anxiety gets so bad, it literally manifests as physical aches, pains and illness. On these days, I try to get us outside for a short walk in the fresh air and sunshine. Yes, even on cold days! There’s just something about the combination of moving our bodies, breathing fresh clean outdoor air, experiencing nature and feeling the sun on our faces that does a body and soul good. Nature is a panacea just waiting to heal us.

6. Have some good grounding techniques in your back pocket. In the face of actual panic or anxiety attacks, it’s critical to have some grounding techniques you can work through. These help pull us out of our heads and that feeling of immediate, urgent crisis. One of our favorites is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, where you focus only on five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Sometimes we have to do it twice, but this exercise can almost always bring us back to calm.

I have so many more ideas on this topic that I may need to make this a blog series. Bottom line, mental health is as important as physical health, and right now we are all suffering.

Whether it’s the chronic uncertainty, big imminent changes in schooling or fears around the vaccine and new virus variants we keep hearing about, Covid and the changes it brings are going to be part of our reality for quite some time yet. We all need to find ways to settle our minds and soothe our souls. I hope some of these tips help for you and your family.

As always, I’d love to hear your tips, ideas and feedback in the comments below or over on Facebook.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat, snake and guinea pig mom. Travel nut. Writer since birth. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.

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