It is hard enough being a parent at the best of times. There are so many matters to consider when it comes to our children’s physical and emotional well-being. Now Covid-19 has presented us with a massive curveball for which we were unprepared.
Spare a thought, then, for the many mums and dads who are feeling anxious and if you were not suffering from parental anxiety before, you may well be now. Anxiety is a feeling of unease or inner tension that is commonly experienced as fear or worry. A person can experience mild, moderate, or severe anxiety. It is normal to feel anxious from time to time. For example, a person may feel anxious before having a job interview or giving a speech. This form of anxiety is something that most people can identify with.
So, what is parental anxiety and how does it manifest itself? Parental anxiety is when a parent worries excessively about their child’s safety and well-being. Of course, it is only natural to be concerned about these things but when it reaches the stage that a parent just cannot stop worrying about their child, then there is a problem.
The main thing to understand about anxiety is that it can stop us from doing things. It evokes a powerful fear response in what is known as the primitive part of our brain (our fight, flight or freeze response). Commonly, this paralyses us emotionally, preventing us from doing the fear-inducing activity. Instead of facing the fear, a person avoids it. When it is parental anxiety, it can be passed from the parent to the child so that the child learns to be anxious about whatever the parent is worried about. Consequently, the child’s natural curiosity and ability to learn for themselves becomes inhibited.
Anxiety in parents and children may have peaked at the beginning of lockdown but for many it has not gone away. In fact, many parents may be experiencing increased anxiety about their children returning to school or nursery. Although the current spike in the Covid-19 epidemic is waning, we have been warned by the government to be “alert” so the fear remains that the “R” rate could rise again and we could find ourselves and our children at an increased risk of infection.
How do we navigate our way through these uncertain times and manage our concerns about sending our children back into educational or childcare settings? The fact is, there is no easy answer and increased parental anxiety at this time is normal and to be expected. The following tips may be helpful:
Listen to some of the expert advice but try not to listen to too many different experts. Weigh up the options then try to go with your gut feeling. Do not overload your brain with too much information because that could leave you feeling overwhelmed and mentally exhausted.
Take some time out to clear your mind if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Many parents have had their children at home for over 12 weeks now and that is beginning to take its toll. We cannot make good decisions when we are feeling stressed, tired, or hungry.
Once you have decided whether or whenever to send your child back to school, try to stick with your decision. It is important to provide children with a clear message and boundaries. This helps children to feel safe and secure.
Be aware that older children may have their own opinions and thoughts about returning to school. Engage them in the conversation and allow them to express their concerns.
Whatever your worries about your child returning to school, they will be in safe hands. Schools are working hard to ensure that they an implement social distancing safely.
Try to come across as calm and reassuring. If you appear calm and matter of fact, then your child will be less likely to feel stressed or anxious.
Be aware that following several weeks at home, younger children may be prone to separation anxiety. Your child may appear clingy and unwilling to leave your side, fearful of being away from you and the familiar home environment. If this happens, inform your child’s form teacher about it. Often schools can help with this kind of behaviour. You can help by reassuring your child that you will be thinking about them during the school day and looking forward to picking them up at home time.
Many children are looking forward to returning to school and seeing their classmates or doing their favourite activities. You will need to make your child aware that things may be different, as children could be organised into “social bubbles” that may not include their friends. Some of the lessons or activities they previously enjoyed may not be on the curriculum. Your child’s school will advise you about how they are managing the situation.
Be positive about the many good things about being able to go back to school and support your child by answering any questions they may have or any fears they may wish to express.
We are in a situation that is fluid. Things change from one week to the next. Learning to cope with uncertainty in life is a useful life skill for all of us whatever our age. Fortunately, human beings are adaptable and the young even more so.
If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, including parental anxiety, do get in touch:
Mobile: 07856 201869
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