Back to School Struggles

By Barbara Pierce

Returning to school can often make kids anxious

This is a challenging time for kids returning to school, said Anne Lansing, CEO of Safe School Mohawk Valley. 

Safe Schools Mohawk Valley is a nonprofit organization that works to keep kids in school by reducing barriers to learning while supporting their social and emotional well-being.

Partnering with schools, community agencies and parents, Safe Schools staff—who are housed in 10 local schools in Oneida, Herkimer and Madison counties—identify kids who are at risk of dropping out and provide necessary interventions.

Anne Lansing is CEO of Safe School Mohawk Valley, a nonprofit organization that works to keep kids in school by reducing barriers to learning while supporting their social and emotional well-being.

“We’ve seen an increase in kids not returning to school because of the pandemic,” she said. “They’ve lost a year and a half. What does this do to them socially and emotionally? I’m glad I’m not a kid these days!”

“Some kids thrived with online learning; they did really well,” she added. “Others did very poorly. What can we do? We can’t hold them back a grade; the schools would be flooded. We spend time with the kids, learning what their concerns are. It’s interesting what they come up with.”

Maybe they put on weight during the pandemic and are embarrassed to come back. Or they don’t know whether to wear a mask. Or, they say “no one’s seen my face for two years,” which makes them anxious.

Returning to school can often make kids anxious. It’s a stressful time for them, especially now. There are some common struggles they face. By thinking ahead and preparing, parents can set their kids up for success. 

Show you support and have confidence, say the experts. 

If you’re feeling anxious for them and somehow communicating it to them, they’ll pick up on it. You’ve helped them through transitions before. Remember what worked then for your child and use the same strategy.

Kids show that they’re anxious by their behavior. They may become argumentative about returning to school, they may want to avoid getting on the school bus or in the car to go to school, or they may show indifference to school.

Help your kids identify what they’re afraid of, suggested Lansing. Talk about what’s going on in their heads. Her staff helps kids identify their fears. Kids often say things like “If I take my mask off, will I die?” And the school shootings: “Will I be next?” fearing they will be shot at school.

Give them time to express their thoughts and feelings. Assure them that they have the strength to handle these stressful things.

Being bullied is another concern kids have, said Lansing.

“Thanks to social media, they can be bulled 24/7. It used to be that you were safe once you went home from school; that’s not true anymore,” she said.

Bullying is most frequently reported in middle school and drops off in high school. It’s often more prevalent at the beginning of the school year when kids try to climb the social ladder. They can be incredibly cruel to one another for the sake of popularity.

Before your kids head back to school, you may want to have an honest chat with them about peer pressure. They may look apathetic and roll their eyes at you, but rest assured, it’s important. You are your child’s primary protector.

To prevent bullying, you need to know the warning signs to look for, what your school does to address it and how to handle it if your child experiences or contributes to bullying. Bullies tend to pick on people they can get a reaction from. They choose kids who get upset and who take the teasing to heart. They also look for kids who won’t stand up for themselves, or kids they can overpower. It’s important to teach your child how to react and who to go to if they feel unsafe.

Another issue kids face as they go back to school is loss, said Lansing. Many kids lost so much during the pandemic—they lost grandparents, even parents. As a parent, you can’t take their pain away, but you can help them cope in healthy ways.

Kids respond to death differently than adults. How your child behaves and how you respond depends on their age. Help them express their feelings. There are a lot of good books on death for kids. Reading books and telling stories, or looking at pictures of the person who died can help kids express their feelings. Also, expressing your own sadness lets them know it’s OK to be sad.

“Protect them and give them coping skills,” summed up Lansing. “They are our next generation. They are the leaders of the future. What do we need to do to make sure they have the knowledge and skills to lead?”

“Kids are resilient,” she concluded.