Back to school: How to limit stress and ease the transition for children

Heading back to school can be a stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Even with all the uncertainty surrounding the second pandemic school year, experts said there are things parents can do to try and make the transition go smoothly for children.

Good communication is one of them.

“It’s important that we’re checking in with our kids at this time,” Dr. Tyler Black, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, told CTV News Channel on Saturday.

“Kids are going to be stressed during a pandemic,” he said, especially when they’re going back to school.

Simply empathizing that it’s a rough time and asking if there’s anything you can do to help can be beneficial, Black said.

Katherine Earl, a certified teacher and the founder of My Life Creative, a website that sells arts-based products for kids, agreed.

“They’ve been out of school for a really long time now, so they may be feeling things like social anxiety, separation anxiety,” Earl told CTV News Channel on Saturday.

“It’s up to us as parents and adults to open up the lines of communication with our kids and to normalize talking about feelings, normalize talking about mental health so they feel comfortable coming to us when they feel anxious or overwhelmed,” she said.

And if children are feeling stressed, she suggested using affirmations — statements that typically begin with ‘I can’ or ‘I am’ to help them build positive self-talk and confidence.

A couple of examples are: ‘I can do difficult things’; ‘I am brave.’

“The more your kids repeat their affirmations, the sooner they’re likely to believe they are true and to absorb the positive messaging,” Earl said.

Those positive statements will be even more effective if they’re fun, so Earl recommended kids get creative and put the affirmations on posters, t-shirts, or bracelets.

Once kids adopt that positive mindset, their self esteem and confidence will improve, she said.

Black agreed that making things fun can help kids who are struggling with stress or anxiety.

“Sometimes people get hung up on the academic side of school,” he said. “What kids are probably missing the most is the social connection of being around their friends and doing activities together.

“It would be really nice if we could make school easy and fun,” he said. “And gradually meet kids where they are at with respect to the amount of work they have to do, so they don’t feel like they have to do everything while they’re stressed.”