By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – While parents usually can’t wait for their children to go back to school each fall, this year many parents are feeling apprehensive and unsettled. They are worried about their children’s safety and helping them cope while dealing with information overload. Parents must decide whether to send their children to school – often in a hybrid program – or keep them home and to learn remotely. Often, it feels like parents are choosing between children’s mental health and their physical health.

Doctor, why are parents also experiencing back-to-school jitters right now?

Many parents are conflicted about whether their kids should return to the classroom. Will my child get sick? Will she bring the virus back home to the rest of the family? Can we possibly manage virtual learning at home again? Will my child fall behind academically or socially? What if I make the wrong decision for my child and my family?

You say in order to help your kids cope with their own back-to-school worries, as a parent, you need to address your own stress.

The more stressed you are as a parent, the more stressed your child will feel. Even if you try to hide your own anxiety, children are intuitive and can pick up on subtle cues.

One thing parents can do is to avoid information overload?

Of course, you need to stay up to speed on the pandemic and school reopening plans, as well as the economy, the upcoming elections and local happenings. But too much information can be exhausting and lead to undue stress and fear. So limit how much TV you watch, how many articles you read and what social media you follow. Consume media in small digestible doses.

You say not to dwell on the future but focus on what you can control right now.

Yes. None of us knows exactly what the future holds, but we can wear our masks and socially distance. And we can teach our kids to do the same. And while we don’t know whether school plans might change at a moment’s notice, we can prepare for that possibility by having contingency plans in place so we aren’t caught off guard.

And once you make an informed decision, don’t fret about whether it was the right one.

Yes, many parents are afraid they’re going to make the wrong decision by either sending their kids back to school or keeping them at home. But trust you will make the right decision for your family in the moment. Nothing is certain, but trust you’re doing the best you can with the information you have right now.

And, of course, parents should take time to recharge their batteries and clear their minds?

Yes. Go for a daily walk, read a book for pleasure, meditate or socialize online with friends. And don’t forget to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy and exercise.

This is an uncertain and unsettling time for all of us and we all need to be patient not only with each other but with ourselves.

Dr. Mallika Marshall


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