Millions of Texas children are heading back to in-person classes over the next few weeks. For many, it’s the first time they’ll set foot in classrooms after more than a year because of the pandemic. In addition to the many safety questions surrounding COVID-19, there are also concerns about how everyone will handle the transition from a social and emotional perspective.
Carleton Brown has been a certified school counselor for more than a decade. He’s also an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology and Special Services department at the University of Texas at El Paso. He told Texas Standard that parents who are considering whether or not to send their children to in-person classes this year can use a checklist prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help with their decision. Another way to ease anxiety, and make better decisions, is to connect with other parents in support groups or as part of a parent-teacher association.
If children will be heading back to in-person school, Brown says parents can help kids know what to expect at school, both in terms of rules and restrictions and changes to the physical environment.
“It’s important to be cognizant, and if feasible, practice the safety rules and procedures at home, and set times where the child can engage in safe socialization,” Brown said.
Giving kids opportunities to ask questions and share their feelings with parents can also help, Brown says.
“In these discussions, it’s important to validate their feelings, remind them that they’re not alone, but not become overly critical or pressure them to talk about their day. [Parents] just need to provide a trustworthy and patient ear,” he said.
Everyone headed back to school, including students, teachers and staff, is likely to be feeling anxious or overwhelmed, Brown says. He suggests school staff and teachers should lean on one another to address concerns and provide support.
If a parent or teacher notices that a child is acting fearful, aggressive or defiant, that child may be experiencing stress or anxiety related to returning to school under changed conditions. Brown says parents should reach out to school personnel and primary care physicians for help if they feel a child needs extra support.