PINEHURST, N.C. -- It’s been 18 months since COVID-19 first arrived in the United States, and the most recent rise in cases shows that the pandemic will be with us for some time to come.
With a new school year just days away for children attending traditional-calendar schools, students, parents, teachers and staff are entering another fall with plenty of uncertainty and stress. While a return to “normal” seemed more likely just a few weeks ago, the Delta variant of COVID-19 has forced schools in some areas to mandate masks and implement other strategies to keep everyone safe.
FirstHealth Psychiatrist Meredith Stanton, M.D., says parents should be ready for an uptick in stress – both for themselves and their children – as school begins.
“We are all excited for the return of in-person school and the return to something akin to ‘normal,’ but we will continue to live with COVID,” she said. “School remains one of the most important places for kids to learn and grow intellectually, socially and emotionally, so appropriately preparing for the stress of COVID-19 is key in helping children get the most out of the school year.”
Just like at the beginning of the pandemic, Stanton says parents should set a positive and confident tone when talking to their children about COVID-19 and school.
“One advantage is that many students have become comfortable with wearing a mask indoors,” she said. “That should help ease the transition back into the classroom, but also getting kids vaccinated can help reduce their anxiety about getting sick or spreading the virus to friends and family.”
Younger students may not fully understand all the health and safety practices, Stanton says, but parents can help by modeling good behavior and safe practices. Parents can also reassure their children that safe practices will help reduce the chances of having to quarantine if they are exposed.
Middle and high school students may have a mix of emotions that range between excitement and anxiety, especially considering that there might be differing opinions between friends about getting vaccinated.
“It’s important for parents to discuss the risk vs. benefits of vaccination, at the same time parents should focus on factual information from the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Stanton said. “Parents should be on the lookout for any signs of mental health issues, including anxiety and distress with their children.”
Signs of stress in children can include poor sleep, declining grades, avoidance of going to school, irritability, and being withdrawn from family or friends. Parents can help build resilience with their kids by demonstrating taking time to care for themselves, practicing relaxation techniques with children like yoga, and setting an upbeat tone that a brighter future is around the corner.
Stanton says additional tips are available on the American Academy of Pediatrics website.
FirstHealth continues to vaccinate those 12 years and older. FirstHealth is offering COVID-19 vaccines at several of its primary care and occupational health clinics across our service area. Appointments are required. Please call (910) 715-7468 to schedule an appointment at one of our clinics.