By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – This back to school season is particularly stressful for many children. In addition to the normal jitters kids get, they have so many other things to think about this year with the coronavirus pandemic and all the changes it brings.

Children might be worried they will get sick or make their family members sick. They may be afraid to leave home and their parents. They may worry about failing to follow the new school rules like wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from others.

Their schedules could change at a moment’s notice depending on the newest guidelines. They may worry they won’t succeed academically, either in class or virtually at home. And they may be sad about missing out on activities like sports and school performances. All of these things and more could be weighing heavy on your child’s mind, no matter their age or grade.

What can parents do to minimize their kids’ stress?

The first thing you can do is manage your own stress and anxiety. If you are constantly worried, fearful, or pessimistic, your kids are more likely to be the same. So do what you can to project a sense of calm and confidence as you prepare your kids for the year ahead.

Ask your children what worries them and validate how they’re feeling.

“It’s okay to feel nervous or scared.”

“It’s okay to feel disappointed that you can’t play sports or play in the school band.”

Don’t dwell on the difficulties this school year will present

Instead of what is out of their control, help children focus on what they can control, like wearing masks, socially distancing, and washing their hands.

Prepare your kids for possible changes, like having to move from an in-person to a fully virtual schedule. If they know what to expect in advance, they’re less likely to feel overwhelmed.

What can you do to keep them connected?

Try to find ways to get kids together, either in small socially distanced groups or online through virtual playdates or extracurricular activities. Also, plan activities that you can do with your children at home or outside. Make sure they get plenty of physical activity, which is not only good for their physical health, but their mental health as well.

How can you tell if your child is not coping well?

Signs of anxiety or depression include irritability, sadness or crying, problems sleeping, a decreased appetite, a lack of energy, physical complaints like belly pain, headaches, or dizziness, and even a refusal to go to school.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your children, sit down and talk to them to find out what’s bothering them. Reach out to their teachers or school counselors. And of course, call their pediatrician for more advice.

Dr. Mallika Marshall

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