The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has dramatically changed our daily lives, and everyone is feeling these changes deeply. With the return of in-person classes, many parents and students are experiencing back-to-school anxiety due to safety concerns and uncertainty regarding COVID-19.
Many parents around the United States face difficult choices about how their children will return to school—whether it be in-person or virtually. If you suffer from anxiety, sending your child back to school can be challenging. The last thing you want is to make a decision that won’t be in your child’s best interest or that could put your child’s health at risk.
As a parent, here’s how to cope with the anxiety of sending your child to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remember that there’s no “right” decision.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know whether or not you’re making the “right” decision for your child. As a result, the decision of whether to send your child back to school during COVID doesn’t have the right answer. Instead, all you can do is make the best decision possible for your child with the information you have available.
Making the best decision requires considering the advantages and risks of each option—keeping your children at home or sending them back to school. Because feelings of anxiety can predispose you to negative thoughts, consider talking through both sides with a trusted family member.
Weigh the advantages and risks.
If you send your child back to school, they’ll be able to foster friendships with peers and enjoy the advantages of learning in public settings. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sending children back to school during COVID if it is possible for them to do so safely.
Before making the decision, be sure to consider your school district’s COVID-19 response. Does your school district enforce social distancing and face coverings, and do classrooms provide sufficient ventilation to minimize the spread of COVID-19? Many school districts are implementing safety precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease, and it’s important to consider these factors alongside the risks of sending your children back to school.
With that said, the main advantage of remote learning is that you can exercise more control over who your children come into close contact with, allowing you to reduce their risk of coronavirus exposure. Keeping your children home may offer you peace of mind, especially if your child is at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19 or if you have high-risk family members at home. If your child has an underlying medical condition, talk to your child’s doctor or health care provider before sending them back to school.
If you’re not sure which option is best for your child, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers helpful resources for parents, including a household risk checklist and PDF for preparing kids for in-person classes.
Consider the facts.
Anxiety plays an important role in decision-making. If you let anxiety influence your thought processes, one effective anxiety management strategy is to ensure your worries are as factually informed as possible. For example, if you’re worried about your child being exposed to COVID-19, it can help you know how statistically likely it is.
Assessing the risk of COVID-19 exposure based on whether your local neighborhood, region, and state are currently in a COVID-19 outbreak or not can also help you make an informed decision. For parents in New York City, the American Association of Pediatrics’ recent state-level data report may provide guidance. Your state’s Department of Health and Human Services may also offer public records of COVID-19 cases in your area.
The coronavirus disease risk at your child’s school district not only depends on the school’s COVID-19 response but also depends on the number of COVID-19 cases in your community.
What safety precautions can help?
Health experts, school officials, and educators are working hard to ensure schools are as safe as possible. To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, schools limit class sizes, staggering class schedules, and offer hybrid in-person/remote learning options.
Developing a strategic plan and teaching your children safety precautions can help lower their chances of COVID-19 exposure. Advise your children to:
- Cover coughs with their elbow
- Wash hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands.
- Wear a face mask in public settings, and wash hands before putting on a mask
- Practice social distancing by staying six feet away from others
- Report any flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat, and fever
Many schools check students for symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu each day to limit how the virus spreads throughout the school district. Avoid sending your child to school if they have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 or if they’re experiencing symptoms of influenza. For more information on COVID-19 symptoms in children and adolescents, check out the CDC’s guide.
What else should I know?
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to change. If you decide to send your child back to school, it’s important to be flexible. Follow your school’s COVID-19 response and prepare to make adjustments as needed.
If you’re struggling with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Even if your anxiety co-occurs with other conditions, such as depression, the experienced clinicians at the Ross Center can help you overcome your anxiety and problematic thoughts. With proper treatment, you can regain strength and learn healthy coping techniques to manage anxiety symptoms.