Parents can help children face ‘return concern’ about going back to school

Published: Aug. 10, 2020 at 12:13 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - With about four weeks left before the new school year begins, parents are facing tough decisions about sending their children back to school.

A survey of 1,000 students between the ages of 13 and 18 conducted by the Allstate Foundation and Morning Consult, found 57% say they are uncertain, 50% say they are nervous and 42% say they are stressed about the new school year.

The group Wings for Kids tries to equip at-risk children with the skills they need to succeed in school, stay in school and thrive in life.

Wings for Kids CEO Bridget Durkan Laird says the emotions the survey found is not a surprise.

"It's across the country everyone's trying to deal with this uncertainty in a different way," she said. "I think that really rolling with it, as we say, 'Winging' it, is really the only option right now."

Wings for Kids, which has been in the Charleston area for 25 years, focuses on social and emotional learning.

"You go to school for your head-smarts, but there's also this other piece that's your heart-smarts, and that's what social and emotional learning is," she said.

About five years ago, she said the pandemic has brought the importance of social and emotional well-being as a part of the learning process to the forefront.

The survey found that teenage girls may need more help learning how to manage their stress, as less than half of teen girls surveyed said they have good stress management skills.

Teenage boys, meanwhile, say they are more regularly taking part in activities like video games to "escape reality" on a weekly basis, while teeen girls are contributing to their stress by keeping up with news and events weekly, the survey found.

The fact that parents can't control or predict what will happen makes it all the more important to help children prepare and respond, Laird says.

“So what you can control is helping kids understand it is going to be different,” she says. “There are going to be a variety of situations that do occur. How can you handle that, so that it is not as traumatic as it possibly could be in preparing them to say, ‘Here are possible outcomes. And let’s talk about if that happens. How’s that going to make you feel? How are you going to persevere and get through this?’ Because, you know, we can’t control it.”

She said parents have the opportunity to support their children and help them deal with the anxiety, knowing the uncertainty will be difficult for children.

Laird says there are several things parents can do to help:

  • Don’t ignore the anxiety: point out that it will have a toll on children’s emotions.
  • Have conversations about the concerns.
  • Make use of resources to help students prepare and understand.
  • Prepare students for the possibility of changes.

Laird suggested roleplay as a way to prepare. Ask how they will handle changes, what will their emotions be if different scenarious play out.

“We’re not ignoring it we’re talking about it when we’re calling this out,” she said.

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