Mental health experts on managing back to school anxiety amid pandemic

As many families head back to school remotely, the prospect of navigating the school year during a pandemic is stressing people out.

Several mental health experts said they’ve seen an uptick of families concerned with how to manage anxiety. Full-time distance learning is not easy on anybody. Whether you're a parent, student or teacher, the feeling is universal.

The Rhodes family from San Jose is mentally prepping themselves for a school year that will look a lot different. It will be distance learning to start and it’s unclear how the year will unfold. The uncertainty is bringing a new kind of jitters.

“I’m hopeful,” said Parent Reanna Rhodes. “I’m worried, it's just a lot at the same time.”

Additional stress on Reanna Rhodes who is a teacher at Woodhaven Preschool with in-person instruction.

“If I have one parent that's home and not feeling well and decides to send their children to school so they can have a break,” said Rhodes. “They are putting us at risk so I have a lot of anxiety about that.”

“Parents are nervous too,” said Thomas Plante, Santa Clara University Professor of Psychology. “We are all discombobulated and not sure how this is all going to work out.”

Experts say anxiety and stress manifests in several ways. In children, parents can look for subtle signs.

“Short fuse, irritability all of a sudden not sleeping or eating so well, clinginess,” said Plante.

Strategies to cope with stress include talking it out, exercise, stretching, and structure. Comfort can also be found in simple routines.

“It’s stressful, it's really stressful and the worries range from basic logistics of where are the kids going to do their distance learning, do they have good set-up to be online all day,” said Parent Misty Pickford.

Pickford worries about the quality of her eighth grader’s education and social connections.

Child Psychiatrist Dr. Vidya Krishnan recommends partnering with your child.

“You aren’t going to walk this walk alone,” said Dr. Krishnan. “I am with you every step of the way. We will figure it out together.”

As for concerns with socialization, experts suggest adapting to socializing remotely and allowing for more video interaction and play. Kids can also do a joint activity.

“Maybe the two of them can watch a movie or watch a show and they can talk about something,” said Dr. Krishnan. “It can sometimes break the ice for kids who don't do that well on a remote medium.”

Experts agree honesty and communication among families is paramount.

“You have to have some kind of grace,” said Rhodes. “This is something that is unprecedented.”

“There’s a lot of stress to go around,” said Plante. “I think we have to be a little gentle with ourselves and each other in realizing this a tough time for an awful lot of people.”

Experts said it’s not a “one size fits all” approach. It’s best for parents to be aware of their children's needs and what works best for their family.