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Mental Health Tips for Back to School

Be on the lookout for anxiety as children deal with school and COVID-19

By Eugenia Jones

As all McCreary County children head back to in-person classes at school with no virtual options, many will deal with unique sets of challenges including new routines, schedules, and dealing with social anxiety about the pandemic.

Many children have been tucked within the safe boundaries and familiarity of home and family with limited outside contact.  Children will face reminders to not get too close to others and to sanitize their hands often.  Children will also deal with wearing face coverings while indoors at school and when riding school buses to and from school.

According to the site,, it is important for parents to stay calm and positive if young children are clingy after spending much, if not all, of last year at home with family and virtual learning.  It’s important to validate the child’s feelings but don’t dwell on them and make clinginess worse.  Parents should set the tone by not showing their own anxiety to their children.  Focus on the positive.  The site also suggests parents with young children who are anxious about leaving home for a day at school should practice separating and develop a routine prior to the first day of school.  A lengthy good-bye on the first day of school is usually not a good idea and tends to make separation anxiety worse.  Let children know the schools are doing a good job of keeping everyone safe from the virus.  Explain that new rules and procedures help keep everyone safe.  It’s also a good idea to prepare children for the possibility of upcoming changes in routines-schools may very well have to switch back and forth between in-person and virtual learning throughout the coming year.

Staci Daugherty, an Adanta counselor in McCreary County, agrees it is important to be positive and empathetic with children as they return to school amidst a rising number of COVID-19 cases.  She urges parents to remain calm and listen to children’s concerns.

“It may be beneficial to let children do art projects at home to express their feelings,” Daugherty suggested.  “Stress reducing activities such as hiking, stretches, and other forms of exercise can be helpful.  It’s very important to keep an eye out for stress, and it’s also important to celebrate wins.  For a child who is anxious, a small win or accomplishment is a big step.” According to Daugherty, one survey indicates 27% of parents and 14% of children are showing signs of stress and anxiety.  She urges parents to stay in contact with their primary care physicians so proper care and counseling referrals can be done if needed for mental health issues. 

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