Back to School time is naturally stressful for everyone. It’s natural for parents and kids to feel a little apprehension as the first day of the new year of school approaches. In past years, there may have been butterflies in the stomach about making friends, getting good grades, being popular, maybe even worries about school shooters or the dreadful drills. But, this year, there is even more to be apprehensive about. As parents drop off their kids, they may be wondering if they’re doing the right thing or if they’re putting their kids in danger during this time of COVID and chaos. Let’s look at some of the things parents can expect and pitfalls to avoid.
First of all, when parents drop their kids off at school, they can expect them to have more separation anxiety than ever, because kids have been used to being at home in lockdown, feeling protected by their parents, and the world they’re now venturing into on their own has become scarier. Unless parents have been explaining the news to them and answering their questions about COVID, the murder of George Floyd, protests, riots, looting, toppling of statues and so on, kids will be very confused and frightened about all that has gone on since they were made to leave school many months ago. They are likely to bombard their teachers with these questions, some of which parents may prefer to answer according to their own values.
Different schools may follow slightly different rules when it comes to what safety measures they adopt. Students’ reentry into socialization, after months apart, will be awkward. So, if they’re also made to wear masks and stay six feet apart, it will make their reentry even more challenging. Since it’s hard to tell what a person is feeling when they have a mask on, there won’t be social cues to help kids know whether other kids are reacting to them favorably or not. Yet, since many children will have underlying fears of catching COVID, they may appreciate these precautions.
Students’ reentry into their schoolwork is another challenge. Many will feel disoriented and disconnected from reading, writing and arithmetic—no less science, history and more difficult subjects. Some kids will have had very little instruction because ‘distance-learning’ was not very successful for the most part. Some kids didn’t even have computers or had problems joining Zoom. Other kids were bored watching a teacher on the computer instead of in person. Many students had problems knowing what their assignments were and turning them in. So, most kids will feel lost and left behind if the teacher assumes the student has learned all the material from the previous year. Though schools and parents are eager to push students ahead, it would be best if parents kept their kids back a year—and even better if whole schools made the decision to have every child repeat the year to make sure that they have mastered the material.
These troubling times are affecting us all, so we need to look out for each other’s mental health and get help when needed. For example, kids who have spent their time in lockdown playing countless hours of violent video games will likely have become more aggressive and may have problems controlling themselves towards their classmates when come back to school. Teachers should also be sensitive to signs that a student is depressed, is failing or has other signs of psychological problems—and should bring this to the attention of parents and school counselors. Meanwhile, we can all agree that there should no longer be school shooter drills because they were traumatizing enough—before the events of 2020—and would be even more traumatizing now.
About the author: Carole Lieberman, M.D., M.P.H. is a well known board-certified Beverly Hills psychiatrist, parenting expert, and author — notably the award-winning “Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror.” She was trained at NYU-Bellevue and at Anna Freud’s London Clinic and served on the Clinical Faculty of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. Dr. Carole testifies at trials as a forensic psychiatrist/expert witness and is a three-time, Emmy-honored TV personality who has appeared on Oprah, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, Fox News, HLN, ET, ABC, CBS, NBC and many more.