Children have been staying home for a while now due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. With schools finally opening up, parents likely have concerns about how their child might handle back-to-school anxiety and homesickness. Below we present some strategies for parents to reduce anxiety and homesickness and help ease the transition from being at home to being back in the classroom.

Strategies for parents to help reduce back-to-school anxiety and homesickness

  1. Practice coming up with a list of things your child would like to share with their teacher and classmates (e.g., unique interests or talents, fun things they did this summer).
    • For kids who feel shyer and more anxious, parents can practice these brief “sharing statements” so their child feels more comfortable talking.
    • Help your child with keeping their sharing time short (since the teachers may need to cut them off if it’s too long), speaking up so others can hear and making eye contact.
  2. If you know any of your child’s classmates, reach out to their parents and schedule a playdate. Getting time with friends or peers before school can ease some worries, help your child practice their rusty social skills and help all the kids feel more excited about return to school.
  3. Consider taking a tour of the school (especially if it is a new school) before the school year begins, if possible. Even driving around the school or taking a short walk or a picnic in school grounds may help kids re-familiarize with the school environment or feel comfortable with their new environment. Some schools may have a virtual tour, videos or pictures on their websites that could be helpful if going to the school physically is not possible.
  4. Tell your kids it’s normal to feel nervous or sad.
    • Ask your kids how they are feeling about return to school (open-ended questions are best, or prompt by saying “sometimes kids feel excited or nervous or happy or worried…sometimes they feel multiple things at the same time”)
    • Let them know it’s normal to feel nervous about going back to school and about doing any new things.
      • Talk about things that have helped them feel braver in the past when they started something new.
    • Children may be worried about getting sick when they go to school as they have been hearing a lot about germs and hygiene.
      • Discuss use of masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing rules and what they can do to keep themselves safe.
      • Practice wearing mask, washing hands (at least 20 seconds, making a “white glove” with the bubbles), and not touching eyes, mouth, etc.
    • Create a “Bravery Chart” in which they can earn stickers or points for managing their anxieties in a healthy way.
  5. Increase excitement about return to school.
    • Talk often about the exciting things to look forward to, like getting to meet kind teachers, finding out who will be in their class and the fun things they will get to learn.
      • Ask your child what things they are looking forward to with return to school.
    • Back-to-school shopping: new school supplies often help kids feel more excited, even though they are nervous about return to school. Get some new school supplies (new pencils, markers and a new pencil kit) to help your child feel excited about starting a new year.
  6. Help your children anticipate the change that comes with going to school. Before school starts, talk to them about the changes that are coming with the return to school. Be sure to discuss routines — schoolwork, learning, recess, lunch, etc. Focus on the positives and fun!
  1. Reassure your child that you are interested in their welfare and know that they might feel homesick. Let your child know that you will check in with them at the end of each day, and that they can share anything with you!
  2. Help your kids get used to being away from home.
    • Practice spending time away from your kids at home. Working/playing in different rooms, having structured small amounts of time on their own, and doing tasks by themselves may help them feel confident about not needing to be always with parents.
    • Spend more time outside the house with the kids – running errands, going on outing, etc. to help them feel comfortable with being away from home.
    • Remind children of the times prior to the pandemic when they were in school without parents and how they handled being scared or missing parents.
    • Talk to teachers about creating a plan for your child to feel comfortable at school if they have separation anxiety – planned video or phone calls to a parent, writing notes or letters to parents or having a special toy they can use for comfort.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kaushal Amatya Kaushal Amatya, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist with the Divisions of Nephrology and Cardiology at Children's National Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Pediatrics at The George Washington University School of Medicine.
Laura GrayLaura Gray, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at Children's National Hospital.

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2 replies
  1. DC says:

    Love this article and very helpful ! Would love some tips or recommendations — perhaps a future article — for how to specifically help when your kiddo is worried about something, specific ways to help them work through an outsized worry during this stressful and heightened time.

    Reply
    • Rise and Shine says:

      Thank you for your comment. We do have a few articles on building resilience and managing stress that might be helpful:

      • Building resilience amidst challenging times (https://riseandshine.childrensnational.org/building-resilience-amidst-challenging-times/)
      • Helping kids manage stress and anxiety (https://riseandshine.childrensnational.org/helping-kids-manage-stress-and-anxiety/)
      Reply

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