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Charlynn Small Ph.D., LCP, CEDS-S,
Charlynn Small Ph.D., LCP, CEDS-S,

5 Tips to Help Children Manage Back-to-School Stress

Navigating back to school during COVID-19.

The barrage of information children have recently had to process about both COVID-19 and systemic racism has been overwhelming. It’s affected kids and families in different ways, such as leading to stress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. The following tips can help students learn to manage stress and build resiliency during their transition back to school:

1. Respond to your child’s questions and reduce exposure to news coverage.

While current events can be difficult to explain to children, parents and caregivers can help reduce their stress by responding to their difficult questions. Even the youngest children should be provided with honest, age-appropriate answers to their questions. Parents should discourage children from constantly viewing dreadful images and frightening news coverage. Instead, reassure them that they will be safer when they follow the recommended precautions.

Teach them to observe and obey school policies around new routines and other important issues. Instruct them in the proper use and care of CDC recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. Provide opportunities for them to practice putting on and taking off masks, and clarify the circumstances under which they should be removed during the school day (i.e., during lunch). Show them how to handle PPEs after removal. Be sure to send an extra mask in case one gets misplaced or wet.

2. Help them develop greater self-awareness and a sense of control.

Better coping ability and resiliency will develop when children have a greater sense of control. Encourage them to manage the important things they can control, such as maintaining six feet of physical distance from others, washing their hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces (i.e., cell phones, eyeglasses, etc.). Encourage children to not share food or drinks, and to avoid touching their face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Another very important way to help enhance children’s self-awareness and sense of control when transitioning back to school is to encourage them to ask for help when necessary. Be sure that children can identify persons to whom they can go to for assistance.

3. Structure their time.

Children cope better with change and challenging situations when their time is well-structured. Children feel safer with a consistent routine because events are more predictable. Establish regular meal times, playtime, homework, and sleep schedules. In addition, parents and caregivers should consult with their children’s physicians about scheduled physicals and recommended vaccines.

Parents and caregivers can help avoid confusion about returning to school by refraining from telling children exactly when they will return, or about what instruction will look like (e.g., whether in-class, virtual, or a hybrid) until they have officially heard from their school district. Instructional changes and delayed openings may occur depending on local health trends and conditions. Explain that we are still learning about the virus and that any adjustments made are to maintain public safety.

4. Allow them the opportunity to express themselves.

Allow children the opportunity to express their feelings about disturbing current events. Encourage them to share any concerns about the ways your family may have been affected, such as job loss or the loss of a loved one. Be alert to signs of stress, such as difficulty sleeping, eating, anxiety, fearfulness, changes in mood, and physical complaints. Consider seeking a consult with the school psychologist or other professional when these signs occur.

5. Don’t forget to be aware of your own demeanor.

Children look to adults for reassurance, so it’s important for parents and caregivers to be aware of their own feelings and limitations, and to remain composed. Parents should seek counseling for themselves if they become overwhelmed, or physically and emotionally exhausted.

For more information, visit:

Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19

NASP Calls for Action to End Racism and Violence Against People of Color

About the Author
Charlynn Small Ph.D., LCP, CEDS-S,

Charlynn Small, Ph.D., LCP, CEDS-S, is a licensed clinical psychologist and is Assistant Director for Health Promotions at the University of Richmond’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in Virginia.

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