Going back to school can cause a great deal of anxiety. In our offices here at Mass General for Children, we keep hearing “can I go back to school? What if I get sick? What if I bring sickness back to my family? I have heard about people who are vaccinated getting it, and spreading it…”

These are real fears. As school approaches, IBD social worker Judith Burrows, LICSW, offers some tips and strategies to help you and your child cope and manage with pandemic anxiety.

Less is more: Keep explanations for younger children simple. Example: Covid-19 is a virus. The main job of a virus is to spread, and people are its “transportation”. Vaccines are one way to make it harder for the virus to spread. Other things we can do like wearing masks, frequent hand washing and using hand sanitizers, along with social distancing also help.

Answer the question that is being asked: Do not add more information unless you are asked, and then only answer the questions as they appear. It’s important not to add your own worries, or questions, or future-oriented distress.

Provide concrete examples of things you and your child CAN DO:

  • Wear your mask over your nose and mouth
  • Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer
  • Try to socially distance approximately 6 feet while indoors if possible
  • Get enough sleep
  • Focus on activities that give you energy and joy
  • Spend at least 15-20 minutes outdoors in nature every day
  • Read for enjoyment
  • Write in a journal
  • Draw, color, paint – just the act of creating can be a healthy way to process feelings
  • Your anxiety will impact your child. It’s important to keep your own fears and anxieties in check.
  • Turn off the “noise” of social media and the news and go for a walk, or play a game or cards instead
  • Speak to a mental health professional if the worries and anxieties feel too big or interfere with daily life

In some circumstances, wearing a mask has become a controversial topic. Help your child develop and practice responses to statements or questions about why you are wearing a mask, or avoiding big crowds in small spaces, such as:

  • Shrug, palms in the air, grin and walk away
  • Say, “oh, my parents are like the mask police”
  • Say you do not want to get your grandparents/baby siblings/vulnerable family members sick

This is not a forever “new normal” it is a temporary situation. We can change the way we play and work and travel (near or far) and live, for just long enough that we can stop this virus from spreading. We can take great care of ourselves, grow our confidence, joy, and relationships so that we can play, work, and flourish.

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