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How to lessen anxiety, ease back-to-school transition for kids and parents during COVID-19

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WATCH: Getting kids ready for their back-to-school routine usually takes time. But this year, with the pandemic and longer break, there’s added changes for kids and parents.

Back-to-school won’t quite be back-to-normal for families in Saskatchewan.

Children have been out of class since mid-March, with most finishing the 2019-2020 year via remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: No outside community user groups allowed at Regina schools this fall, divisions say

Regina occupational therapist Louise Burridge said the back-to-school transition is always challenging, but this year there are added stressors for kids and parents.

“Primarily on parents’ minds are worries about some of those new routines, worries about their children’s safety,” Burridge said.

“We have added routines, so we have to look at how we build tolerance with wearing a mask. How we can make sure kids are understanding the importance of social distancing?”

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Burridge noted these new routines may require some practice before the start of school, to help lessen any potential anxiety.

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Dr. Kris Boksman has tips to alleviate mask anxiety

“Even remembering things like how to pack your backpack, how to open your lunch kit – all of those kind of basic tasks might need to be practiced before we head back to school,” she said.

The occupational therapist advises families to take things slow, and remember it’s a process.

“We’re all learning, and so if you see a child learning to use their mask or maybe not using it properly, be cautious not to be punitive … really make sure we’re being kind, we’re being patient,” she said.

Starting conversations, adjusting routine

Burridge noted that a good starting point for families is to check-in, through conversation, to determine what – if anything – is an area of concern heading into the school year.

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“When you start the conversation and you ask questions, it’s really important not to load your children with your own emotions,” she said.

“Instead of saying, ‘what are you worried about?’ in regards to back-to-school, you want to try and ask them, ‘what’s on your mind?’ or ‘what are your feelings about going back-to-school?’”

Burridge said these kinds of open-ended questions allow children to express themselves and their true feelings, including positive thoughts about the upcoming school year.

Click to play video 'How to manage back to school anxiety' How to manage back to school anxiety
How to manage back to school anxiety

That’s the approach Saskatoon mom Bailie Smith said has been most helpful in deciding whether her 10-year-old daughter will return to school, or remain home, this fall.

“She’s been telling us how she feels about things, and we make sure when we talk about it we include her in the conversation,” Smith said.

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Burridge said one of the key recommendations for parents, right now, to help ease potential anxiety is to observe and adjust sleep patterns.

“Sleep has such a profound influence on how children behave and how they learn,” she said.

“Over the next few weeks, start looking into starting to reset that bedtime and wake time.”

Read more: Saskatchewan School Board Association ‘welcoming’ recent changes to Safe Schools Plan

Burridge noted the general rule is adjusting the times by about 15 minutes per week. Sleep regulation is also a helpful tool for adults.

The occupational therapist said physical activity and nutritious meals are also key to helping children regulate emotions and remain calm.

She suggested keeping up with outdoor activities established in the summer as part of fall fitness and noted healthy meals served at routine times will also help with emotional regulation.

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