Coping with Childhood Anxiety Amid Returning to Classroom

Johns Hopkins Medicine

After a year of virtual learning, many kids are beginning to return to the classroom in-person. Johns Hopkins Medicine experts say this new adjustment may prove to be challenging for many children and parents alike, bringing along some worries.

Carisa Parrish, Ph.D., co-director of pediatric medical psychology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has seen a mix of emotions from parents and children when it comes to going back to in-person learning. While the idea of returning to class may excite some children, it may bring feelings of anxiety for others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.4 million or 7.1% of children and adolescents in the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety. Anxiety can be triggered for a number of reasons, including potentially, for some, the idea of being in the same room as their teacher and peers and losing the anonymity of being in class virtually or ensuring they or their classmates adhere to new safety guidelines like wearing masks and washing hands regularly.

Parrish advises parents to be mindful of their children’s feelings, emphasizing that there is no correct way to feel about returning to school. If these worries occur, Parrish recommends “turning each worry into an action plan,” to help combat concerns, especially those surrounding unknowns. For example, if a child is worried about not knowing what to talk about with his or her friends, you can brainstorm conversation topics the night before. It is also important to validate your child’s worries, without ruminating on them, Parrish adds.

She advises parents to set positive expectations for the transition to in-person learning to inspire an optimistic mindset for the child. Parrish also reminds parents to prepare for changes in the evening and morning routine to avoid feeling rushed or stressed in the morning. Simple steps like making lunch or selecting an outfit the night before can alleviate unnecessary extra stress in the morning. Kids may need to roll bedtimes up slightly to allow for earlier wake-up times.

“An overly grumpy or tearful reaction may simply signal lack of rest, as returning to school in person takes longer than waking up and logging into remote school,” Parrish says.

If feelings of anxiety persist for longer than a few weeks, Parrish recommends speaking to your child’s school counselor, pediatrician, or another medical professional.

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