Tips to address back-to-school anxiety in a time of COVID-19

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) provides tips to manage back-to-school anxiety. 

Acknowledging and talking about fears and concerns as well as taking practical steps throughout the year can go a long way during this time of COVID-19.

“The beginning of a new school year, even during normal times, can bring anticipation, excitement and anxiety for the whole household. This school year promises to intensify all of these feelings, especially the anxiety,” said Lynn Garst, pediatric disaster coordinator, CDPHE. “Parents naturally want to protect their children from as much stress, anxiety and fear as possible. However, children can become even more anxious when they are kept in the dark.” 

 The following actions can help alleviate a child’s anxiety and fear throughout the year:

1. Prior to starting the conversation, assess personal concerns and anxieties, and be prepared to share those with the child.

2. Let the child know what to expect with the start of school, as well as the rest of the year.

3. Talk about what the family and the school are doing to keep everyone safe.

4. Ask what questions the child has. 

• It is OK to not know the answer. This is a great opportunity to work together to find out.

5. Ask the child what concerns they have.

6. Acknowledge fears and concerns. 

• Let the child know that these feelings are OK. Many kids are feeling that way right now.

7. Assure the child that the family will get through this together. 

8. Ask what would help the child feel better. 

9. Try to instill a sense that the child “can do” things to protect themselves. 

• While things can’t go back to normal right now, families can work together to make things better.

10. Give the child choices where choices are possible. 

• Choices help overcome a sense of helplessness. 

• Limit the choices to two options for younger children and up to three options for older children.

11. Mask wearing can be difficult and stressful for many children. Go over the right way to wear a mask — covering both the mouth and the nose. 

• If possible, let the child choose from several types of masks to find the one that fits most comfortably.

• Access resources for helping the child wear a mask. 

12. Work together to develop a daily schedule and routine for both school and nonschool times. 

• Stick to it as much as possible. 

• Knowing what comes next can comfort children of all ages.

13. Try to create a workspace that is specifically dedicated to schoolwork.

• It is just as important for children to leave school behind as it is for adults to leave work behind at the end of the day. This is much more difficult when school and home are in the same place. Creating a special workspace can help separate school from the rest of the day.

• If one cannot create a separate workspace, store schoolwork in a separate location at the end of each school day.

14. If school is online for at least part of the school week, have the child design a workspace that is comfortable with limited distractions. 

• Allow the child to include a comfort item such as a favorite stuffed animal for younger children. 

Continue to stay up to date by visiting covid19.colorado.gov.

This story was posted on October 4, 2020.