For the first time in over a year, children are fully back to school, for in-person learning in New York City. Student’s are shutting down their zoom links and, with masks on, braving the old familiar halls, in a very new way. Everything from group projects to events and activities have changed, and in such a developmental time for young people, this may be causing more than just the back-to-school jitters. While some students will celebrate the return of normalcy, now more than ever, many young people are experiencing anxiety. From making new friends, to how to stay safe on the subway, children are having to handle the ever changing rules and regulations that COVID 19 has forced. If your child is experiencing back-to-school anxiety, there are ways you can help them ease back into in-person learning.
Going back-to-school in New York poses specific challenges that children in other parts of the country may not be facing. During the pandemic, NYC’s economy was hit hard and many people found themselves out of work, a large number of businesses closed, and many families even left the city during lockdown to get a bit more peace and space. Many of those businesses have not reopened, many families have not returned to the city, and a large majority of companies have shifted to work from home models. You and your children may have hoped going back to in-person learning would feel like a return to normal, but the reality is, that everything from the commute to their group of friends may have changed, and this means that both parents and students need to adjust.
Children may be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety as they re-enter in person learning for a number of reasons. During the past year, while they were being home schooled, many children may have changed physically and developmentally at this time. Because they were experiencing these changes on their own, they may experience social anxiety once they are back in front of their peers. Things like working collaboratively, sharing ideas, and talking openly face to face may pose quite a challenge. Some students may have grown so comfortable with remote learning, that the idea of sharing their space and thoughts can become overwhelming and quite difficult.
Many families left the city early on in the pandemic, who have not returned. A lot of New Yorkers have moved upstate or out into the suburbs, which poses an interesting challenge for the children who are still in the city. Children need friends that they trust, especially as they navigate these new and challenging times. If your child has lost even one friend, they may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and increased social anxiety. Students who have changed schools or moved on to highschool during the pandemic, for example, may be feeling overwhelmed both socially and academically. Because many students are coming into a completely new experience without the typical resources, like in-person orientation, or even a typical lunch room setting, many students may feel like they don’t know how to make friends or how to get the peer support they need.
According to Matt Lundgust, founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, parents may need to be more hands on than they were pre-pandemic. Children may need help planning play dates, and feeling safe and secure in new social situations. He urges parents to give their children space and time to figure out these challenges, but to offer more support than ever. He also reminds parents, especially with older children, to check in often. Kids don’t always initiate conversations about their feelings and parents shouldn’t trust a brushed off ‘no mom I’m fine’ response. Parents need to find new and different ways to check in with their kids, and ask how their children are feeling. It is also important to try to recognize the non verbal cues their children may be giving them, like retreating from friends and family, change in sleep or eating, or acting out. These things can be a sign that their children are suffering from anxiety and or depression.
Anxiety in itself is not pathological, in fact it is a useful adaptive response. There are plenty of things right now that may be causing you or your children anxiety, like the political climate, climate change, changing NYC COVID protocol, and re-entering social settings. Generally those feelings of nervousness can be a useful tool to help you distinguish if you are in danger. When it comes to COVID, anxiety can help you make decisions that make you and your family feel safe. In this way, experiencing feelings of anxiousness or nervousness can be perfectly normal. When anxiety interferes with your ability to function in the world in a healthy way, you may be experiencing clinical anxiety. When your feelings of fear or stress are no longer helping you navigate the world in a way that makes you feel safer, it may be time to seek therapy.
Because NYC has changed so much in the past year, even walking to school or riding on public transportation can feel overwhelming for children. Seeing empty storefronts where there used to be booming businesses, or riding the subway can be triggering for young people. According to NYU Langone Health, the pandemic may have caused traumatic stress for some children. If your child exhibits symptoms of PTSD, a Be.Well Therapist is here to help.
NYC’s Vaccine Mandate
With the NYC Department of Education’s Vaccine Mandate going into effect in early October, some parents and teachers may feel safer with their children going back-to-school. Others may worry about the unknowns, the limited resources, and what that may mean for unvaccinated teachers and even students moving forward into the winter months. It is crucial for parents to talk honestly with their children, in order to create an environment where kids feel safe discussing their feelings openly, expressing their fears, and asking for help if they are feeling overwhelmed.
Talking to children about rules and regulations, or any changes they may be experiencing in school, gives them the opportunity to sit with information, ask questions, and make sense of the world on their own terms. It is important to remember that talking to your kids about how to stay safe, and act as a support for your family, is not the same thing as passing along your fears, nervousness, or anxiety. It is also important to urge your children to practice self care and give themselves grace throughout this period.
If you or your child is struggling with back-to-school stress or anxiety in New York, you are not alone and a Be.WELL. Therapist is here to help. Our Be.Well Therapists can help you or your child find ways to cope with anxiety and care for your overall mental well being. A Be.WELL. Therapist is available in both Midtown, NYC and Hoboken NJ.