Anxious heading into the school year? Local child psychiatrist offers helpful tips for families

Education

RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) — As children return to classrooms this fall, they may be feeling worried or scared about what the school year will look like. Child psychologists are calling on parents to talk with their kids as they return to classrooms.

Thousands of students in central Virginia will be in classrooms for the first time since March of 2020, and there are many potential stressors heading into the school year.

Many parents are focused on avoiding getting sick, while others are worried about keeping masks on their kids during long school days. Some are feeling social anxiety being around other students again.

Less than two weeks before school starts at RPS, Wendy Rufrano is considering homeschooling her three young boys once again.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she said. Summer school didn’t go as planned. A child in one of her twins’ classes tested positive for COVID-19 and her family had to quarantine.

Rufrano said out of her three kids, just 8-year-old Connor is comfortable going back.

“I miss my friends and I miss everything,” he said.

They’ve been home for quite a while — where Rufano’s other son Cooper wants to stay.

“It’s like that social anxiety. I feel it myself,” she said.

Mom is worried about rising COVID-19 cases and the possibility of more quarantines but also worries about her kids falling further behind if they do stay home.

“I don’t sleep. I’m up all night thinking what do I do,” the mom said. “As parents, we have to do what we feel is right. What is right at this point?”

These anxious thoughts are common, according to VCU Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Bela Sood.

Dr. Sood advised families to transition into their school routines early. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep, exercise, diet, and simply taking deep breaths when needed, “to tell your body your brain needs to calm down.”

Schedule a time to go through the “what ifs” with your child.

“You go to school and your mask falls off and falls to the ground. What should you do?” the doctor said.

She said families should come up with a contingency plan considering the “what ifs” during the strange school year.

Dr. Sood said calm, open communication between children and parents is huge. She also said parents should remember to take at least 15 minutes a day for themselves. If parents are anxious, their kids likely will be too.

“Oftentimes parents will project the anxiety onto the child,” she said.

Dr. Sood outlined these tips for families:

  1. Transition into your school routine early
  2. Schedule a time of day where you check-in with your child
  3. Come up with a contingency plan for “what ifs” in school
  4. Take deep breaths when anxious, exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep
  5. Don’t judge your child’s feelings. Listen.
  6. Parents: set aside time for yourself so your kids can be the best version of themselves too
  7. Practice mindfulness, meditation, or yoga

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