Michael is a 10-year-old 4th grader who has had a history of social skill problems. He was constantly anxious around his peers and has always felt that other students were making fun of him. In January of last year, Michael had started therapy with me for his anxiety. By early March, his social interactions had greatly improved. He was playing with other students at recess and developing friendships at school. He was overall a happier child. Then, as Michael’s mother told me, “COVID happened, and everything fell apart.”
Children are looking to their parents for confidence, strength, and guidance as they prepare for this upcoming school year. Let us explore ideas and identify solutions to improve our children’s opportunity for success in their academics and social/emotional development.
Parents can help children learn that flexibility can be a useful tool in reducing the anxiety and stress surrounding uncertainties in their lives. For example, a child needs to be realistic about the plan to return to school. The child can accept the idea that they really “want to…” return to school, but the plan may not actually occur because it is out of their control. Often a child can develop a sense of empowerment by preparing a backup plan to their original plan. It is also important for a child to identify the areas of their life that they DO have control over.
LISTEN WITH REASSURANCE
Children of all ages need to be reassured that they are not alone and that the adults in their lives hear them and are listening to them. DO NOT try to solve their feelings. Instead, encourage your child to share emotions such as anxiety, stress, anger, sadness, and fear. Remain calm and validate your child’s feelings, always remembering to thank them for trusting you enough to share with you. Reassure them that they are in a safe setting where they are respected. Express your interest in their feelings and your availability to listen further and/ or talk about them in the future. Often children do not realize that their feelings really do matter to the adults in their lives.
BE THE SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE
Children (like their parents) are much less anxious when they are given information about what to expect in their future. Parents need to tell their children, as detailed as possible, what plans are in place for the student who is returning to the classroom. The unknown is scary, especially during the pandemic, when it seems that change is the only constant for children. An extremely well organized, clear description of the new routines can be quite calming. Reviewing the information with your children, printing it out on paper, or even acting out the new routines/procedures can be helpful, depending on the individual needs and age of the student.
UTILIZE CREATIVITY TO REDUCE ANXIETY
Creating rituals is another effective strategy to reduce anxiety. For example, one of my adolescent patients who was experiencing obsessive thoughts about contracting COVID-19 empowered herself by writing her own “personal wellness COVID preventive plan,” which she followed as a daily checklist. Although the items were as simplistic as reviewing the basic symptoms of COVID, her checklist created a sense of control, allowing her to reduce her anxiety and obsessive thinking significantly.
DEVELOP SCHEDULES, FOLLOW PLANS, AND … PIVOT TO PLAN B
Schedules are essential for children (and adults) to follow, especially with the beginning of a new school year. Sharing in the development of the schedule allows the child to feel a sense of autonomy and empowerment. The child’s involvement with the actual schedule itself should always depend on the child’s developmental age. There is a much higher success rate of a teen adhering to a schedule if he/she has been one of the developers.
PRACTICE AND MODEL RESILIENCY, STRENGTH AND RESOURCEFULNESS
Resilience is our ability to thrive or bounce back after a stressful situation. The good news is that resilience can be taught. Resilient children tend to be happier, more motivated, and engaged, and adopt a more positive attitude about difficult or challenging situations. Even in this challenging and unsettling time of the Coronavirus pandemic, parents need to continue to be the motivating force of strength, love, and acceptance for their children.
Deborah Levi Lane, LCSW is a clinical therapist in private practice. She provides individual and group psychotherapy to children, adolescents, and adults. She also consults with medical groups, hospitals, and schools about the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, ADHD and other psychiatric disorders.
For more information, please contact Deborah at:
or visit her website at www.DeborahLaneLCSW.com
BY DEBORAH LEVI LANE, LCSW