Child advocacy center shares advice for reducing back-to-school, pandemic stress for children

VIDEO: Child advocacy center shares advice for reducing back-to-school, pandemic stress for children

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center in the Lowcountry is sharing tips for parents and caregivers when discussing changes children will face when returning to school whether that be in-person or virtually.

They say the tips were created to help ease a child's anxiety and to help begin an honest dialogue with children about their feelings around school and the coronavirus pandemic.

Parent Lee Deas says it was important for her to involve her children in back to school plans.

“We actually have a 7-year-old who we are doing virtual schooling with and a 12-year-old who’s going back to school and so we just realized that both of the kids had different needs,” Deas said.

Dee Norton says it recognizes the community concerns with learning options and the influence a virtual school setting could have on a child's emotional, social and mental well-being.

“You’re thinking about everyone’s physical health which definitely is top priority, it’s also their social and emotional health that we’re considering in that equation,” Deas said.

The Executive Director of the center, Dr. Carole Swiecicki, says children will commonly share their reactions and fears of their parents especially after months at home due to the pandemic.

“While the uncertainty around the new school year creates reasonable anxiety in all, especially due to its unprecedented nature, as with any challenging topic, caregivers need to model open communication with children, and help them understand and process change so they are better able to manage their stress,” Swiecicki said.

Dee Norton encourages parents to talk with their children about their feelings, validate their concerns and ask how you can make things better for them.

The center’s Director of Development of and Communications, Beverly Hutchinson, says having a routine is important.

“Really establishing those routines provides a nice framework for the rest of your child’s world which may be a little bit more uncertain,” Hutchinson said.

Deas says her children like a routine and says it gives them confidence and a feeling of more normalcy.

Some parents also have a dedicated work space at home for virtual learning.

Dee Norton says you should explain to your children what’s happening with school and safety guidelines and reassure them that adults are making decisions to keep everyone safe. You should also set internet rules and limit their exposure to information that may cause fear.

“We have a rule in our house, ask a parent before you Google search,” Deas said.

Parents should manage their own stress in an effort to remain calm around their children.

“They’ll say ‘hey, look mom is talking about that so I can tell her about that thing that’s bothering me,‘” Hutchinson said.

They also recommend self-care activities like taking a walk or riding your bike with family to relieve some stress.

For more advice, Dee Norton recommends these following tips to help promote a sense of safety and security in school age children:

  • Talk to your children about what is happening with school. Talk about what’s new this year. Will teachers or children be wearing masks? Will learning be online? Will there be extra hand-washing or a new lunch routine? Talk about what will be the same — their interaction with friends, familiar play equipment or teachers. Be honest, including stating you do not know if the answer is uncertain. Reassure them that the adults in their lives are looking at the risks and making decisions to keep everyone safe.
  • Minimize exposure to the news about the current health crisis around kids. Although families need to stay informed, limit exposure to media outlets or social media that might promote fear or panic. Be particularly aware of (and limit) how much media coverage or social media time children are exposed to about the outbreak or school changes.
  • Keep to a regular family routine as much as possible. A lot of change at one time can overwhelm children. When school starts, virtually or in person, make sure that the family keeps to a routine and children get enough sleep, eat regularly, drink plenty of water and get frequent exercise.
  • Talk to your children about the importance of masks. Use age-appropriate language to explain the use of masks to stop the spread of germs.

Dee Norton says caregivers should keep the following tips in mind so their child feels comfortable sharing information and expressing concern:

  • Encourage ongoing, open communication. Encourage them to come to you if they are uncomfortable with a new situation.
  • Talk about their feelings and validate these.
  • Explicitly share the job of a parent or caregiver versus a child. Let the child know that it is a parent’s job to make difficult decisions, and the child’s job is to have fun with friends, do their homework and share how they feel.
  • Create a visual system for parents and caregivers to use while juggling at-home work and school schedules. Setting up a red, yellow, green light system to let children know when a parent is available to help throughout the workday can help set a routine.
  • Manage personal anxiety and stress to avoid clouding a child’s own judgment. Remember, there are no right decisions, especially in a pandemic.
  • Model open, calm communication. Everyone gets upset at times. When you are upset, model self-calming techniques for your children, and your children may be more likely to share openly with you.
  • Review your family’s safety and boundary rules. Starting back to school is always a good time to talk about good boundaries and make sure your child knows what to do if someone breaks the rules, both online and in in-person.

The Dee Norton Child Advocacy center says it’s the region’s leading resource to prevent abuse, protect children and heal families.

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