Post-Covid Anxiety in Children: Helping Your Child Back to School After the Pandemic
The Impact of Covid on Children’s Mental Health
The Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented disruption to our lives. National lockdowns and work-from-home mandates meant many were robbed of familiar routines that kept family and friends away from one another for months or even years. This abrupt change, whilst difficult for all of us, was especially unsettling for children.
With schools closed and lessons moved online, feelings of confusion, worry, frustration and loneliness were commonplace. Many had to explain to children why they couldn’t do all their usual activities, such as see their friends or go to different places, all whilst simultaneously grappling with illness and bereavement.
As the world reopened, we have slowly returned to normal – at least on the surface. What we are facing now is the challenges of children struggling to adapt to life back at school, many of whom missed out on valuable educational and socialisation time at a crucial stage in their young lives.
In our article, we explain the impact of Covid on children’s mental health and how both parents and teachers can support a struggling child. We believe that by communicating with children and young adults in a way that validates their experiences, they will feel seen and heard – ready to move forward with their lives.
Every child’s experience of the pandemic will be different, so how do you know if your child is anxious about returning to school if they are not communicating it? It is possible to spot the signs of anxiety, which can manifest as physical, emotional, behavioural or a combination of all three. We have provided some examples below:
Physical Changes: Feeling or being sick, dizziness/light-headedness, excessive sweat, needing to use the toilet more frequently, racing heartbeat.
Emotional Changes: Tearful, overwhelmed, irritable, sad, overly nervous.
Behaviour Changes: Insomnia or oversleeping, changes in appetite, a struggle to focus, clingy, withdrawn.
Despite the long months of lockdown, there are understandable reasons why children have found returning to school daunting. Being surrounded by others they have not seen in months might feel overwhelming, while they could also fear rejection from their friends. The presence of teachers, having spent so much time with their parents, could make them unsure of their boundaries and fearful of doing something wrong and getting into trouble.
Given the nature of the Covid crisis, children could also be worried about getting sick and passing the illness on to their family. Gaps in education might mean your child has lost confidence in their abilities. We must also consider the huge strain on families over the lockdown period, which sadly resulted in not only bereavement but the breakup of relationships – something children are deeply affected by even without extenuating circumstances.
Of course, not every child will have the same trepidation and might be glad to return to a routine. However, it’s not uncommon for post-Covid anxiety to manifest at a later date, so having knowledge of what your child could face will mean you are better prepared.
How to Help Your Child Deal with Post-Covid Anxiety
Listen to Their Fears
When children and young people know they can express themselves without judgement to an adult they can trust will make them more likely to open up.
Taking the time to listen shows children that you understand their concerns seriously and will help to get worries off their chest.
Ask Questions Rather Than Simply Reassuring Them
It’s natural to want to tell anxious children that everything will be ok and that they have nothing to worry about, yet this can make them frustrated that their feelings are being invalidated or lead to a cycle of requiring constant reassurance.
Rather than take this approach, ask them questions instead. Examples could be
- “What are you most afraid of?”
- “What do you think would make you feel better?”
- “Are there other people you can talk to about this?”
This method will help unpack the root of their fears and may give them a new perspective.
Talk Through any Compulsions
If your child is exhibiting any worrying compulsions, like excessive handwashing, speak to them about how it is affecting them and suggest ways to help manage the issue through talk therapy.
Exhibit Model Coping Behaviours
Anxiety is a normal emotion that both children and adults experience from time to time. Our fight-or-flight response is designed to keep us safe and vigilant in the face of threats. However, excessive anxiety is often experienced when no danger present and can make everyday life a struggle.
Managing anxiety isn’t about removing uncomfortable thoughts, it’s about learning to separate them in the mind and observe them for what they are – just thoughts. Children, like adults, cannot be expected to banish bad thoughts away but can develop coping techniques to counteract their anxiety. Below are some tips.
Mindfulness is about tuning in to the present moment and can be practised anytime. Children can try different mindfulness techniques, such as breathing exercises or walking in nature, to reduce anxious feelings. Daily journaling can also be very stress-relieving and may help children recognise negative thought patterns.
Encourage Children to Exercise and Eat Well
Children who practice good self-care will be better equipped to deal with difficult feelings. Encourage young people to exercise through sports and activities they enjoy and eat a balanced diet. These activities can have many positive outcomes, such as better sleep and increased self-esteem.
Make Use of Mental Health Apps
One of the many benefits of technology is the large choice of apps available to help improve mental health – tailor-made specifically for children and teenagers. Below are our picks of the best:
How to Help Your Child Reintegrate with School After The Pandemic
There are many steps parents and education providers can do to help children struggling to adjust after the pandemic. Many schools implemented a phased return, so the process was more staggered. However, if your child is still finding things difficult, they might require additional support. It is helpful that schools communicate regularly with students so they know who they can turn to, where to go for quiet study and also a refresh on school rules and access to after-school clubs so they can feel part of the school community again.
Teachers and other school staff should be made aware of any children dealing with bereavement or who had pre-existing mental health and/or learning difficulties that might have escalated as a result of the pandemic. It is also important to maintain dialogue between parents and teachers, so everyone is equipped to help students with post-covid anxiety.
Post Covid Anxiety in Children: Final Thoughts
We hope our article has given you an insight into the struggles young people face in a post-covid world. We believe by recognising the signs of anxiety, listening to fears and being proactive in helping children adjust, we can help children meet the challenges they face with confidence.
The Lucy Rayner Foundation is a mental health charity that encourages young people to open up about their mental health struggles, offering a range of services throughout Surrey. Speak to one of our therapists today to find out more.