How to Navigate Back to School Uncertainty

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Finally, after waiting patiently, we are finally sending our kids back to school! 

Gone were the days of our little scholars sleeping through Zoom lectures and scheduling FaceTime playdates. COVID had “been defeated,” and we resumed our normal lives filled with backyard barbecues and neighborhood water balloon fights. 

However, due to the threat of this new strain of the COVID-19 virus, the once-promising return back to in-person learning is now faced with uncertainty. Developing a logical and effective response to the Delta variant is important. 

How can parents and their students best cope with this new wave of the pandemic?

First, it’s important to know that when our brains encounter ambiguous or threatening situations, the most common  emotional responses are anxiety and anger. Common signs of anxiety include frequent worrisome thoughts and physical sensations like sweating, trembling, and increased heart rate. Similar to anxiety, anger is often displayed through thoughts and physical sensations, such as shaking, clenching fists, screaming, pacing, and heavy breathing. 

Below are a few techniques you and your child can try when experiencing these emotions: 

  1. Identify when you are feeling anxious or angry. Encourage your children to regularly check in with themselves when they start feeling anxiety or anger. Here are some good questions you and your children can ask yourselves to start developing mindful awareness of anxiety and anger: What was happening before I felt anxious or angry? Where in my body do I feel anxiety and anger? What pops into my mind when I feel anxious or angry? How do I respond to feelings of anxiety or anger?
  2. Discuss and Validate Each Other’s Emotions. Create a safe space where your child can really feel anger and anxiety. Research suggests that when we try to escape our emotions, these emotions actually grow in intensity and unpleasantness. You can model emotional awareness by initiating the conversation with your child about these difficult emotions. In turn, they will be more likely to share their feelings with you. 
  3. Body Scans. A great way of building emotional awareness is to engage in a regular mindfulness practice. As stated above, lots of symptoms of anxiety and anger involve physical sensations. Try leading a simple body scan meditation with your child. Ask them to close their eyes and check in with each part of their body to see where anxiety and anger show up. You can model this for them by letting them know where you feel anxiety (e.g., shoulder tension) and anger (e.g., shaky legs).
  4. Letting go of thoughts and feelings. This is a great mindfulness exercise you can use with children of all ages to let go of anxious or angry thoughts. It is a particularly great tool for imaginative kiddos! Ask your child to close their eyes and imagine they are sitting near a stream with a tree nearby. Once they are centered, ask them to imagine placing their thoughts on leaves, and let the leaves drift down the stream. This is a great way to gain awareness of our thoughts and let them go while gaining awareness of our emotional experiences.

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