Back To School During Covid: Coping with Stress

As our kids venture back to school this year in different formats, whether full time with social distancing and masks, hybrid models, or online learning, there continues to be many questions about the future of our children's education and world.  Schools open, only to close again.   Kids have to distance and wear masks.  Parents are trying to handle work and school for their children.  Questions about "the sickness" as my children call it and why they haven't been able to socialize with friends or attend favorite events or play sports challenge us daily.    All of these uncertainties in schedules, activities, and the upcoming days and weeks can lead to a build up of stress in our communities.   We look to some experts to find how we can cope with this stress and perhaps maybe even gain positives from it.

Dr. Pamela Cantor in “The Stress of This Moment Might Be Hurting Kids’ Development discusses how stress although sometimes maybe "useful in preparing kids for challenging tasks like tests and performances"  can also raise cortisol levels which can become toxic and affect children's memory and attention.   We may be able to offset these negative affects through the production of oxytocin.    “Relationships that are strong and positive cause oxytocin’s release, which helps produce feelings of trust, love, attachment, and safety,” Cantor writes. How do we foster and nurture these relationships during social distancing and wearing masks?  

Dr. Cantor suggests the “Three Rs”: relationships, routines, and resilience." are essential to us coping and thriving during this stressful time.

Relationships:  We must continue to create as much connectivity between teachers, friends, and family as possible.   This can be through video calls, regular phone conversations with teachers and students, family activities together such as making dinner, craft projects, reading, music, getting outdoors, playing games, writing letters or e-mails and more.   We must continue to interact and not to isolate.   

Routines: Create a schedule for your child's day when they are not at school.  Predictability helps promote a calmness in the sense of knowing what it coming next.  Routines could include not only school work, but exercise activities, outdoor time, game time, mindful practices like yoga or journaling, preparing and eating meals together, as well as bedtime.

      Bedtime routine is essential in maintaining healthy sleep levels so children are well rested to apply themselves during their active, educational days.   See other New Jammies blogs for suggestions on creating a healthy bedtime routine

Resilience:  Learning to recognize and manage our emotions on a daily basis as well as coping with our fears.   Perhaps this involves family circle time to talk about how our day went, what are our children enjoying about school, what do they find challenging, how are they feeling about their friendships, what are their concerns.   In our family we typically utilize dinner as a round table for these discussions, but during this unprecedented time, we may need to set aside more time for these talks.  Not only are children trying to handle their emotions, but adults and parents we are also managing our own stress, fears, and emotions.  We need to stay connected to one another to build our own resilience and lead our children.  

You can learn more about the 3 R's from EdutopiaPamela Cantor, M.D., is founder and senior science advisor at Turnaround for Children. 

Additional resources for families as we head back to school during Covid can be found at Child Mind Institute

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