Many caregivers in the sandwich generation (taking care of children at home and caring for aging parents) have mixed feelings about the kids returning to school in September. There is excitement and relief mixed in with worries. Given the context of this COVID-19 pandemic, this will be a September (and school term) like no other! Here are tips on how to manage ‘back to school’ worries.
As many questions as answers
The majority of parents overall appear to want children to go back to class in the fall but are worried there are not enough health and safety measures in place to ensure students and teachers do not get infected with COVID-19. These measures vary tremendously across Canada.
Will the kids be safe from COVID-19? Are the schools prepared with health and safety precautions? What if there is a second wave? What if there is an outbreak and a return to virtual teaching? What about paid work?
How about family gatherings? Will it be safe for the kids to see their grandparents after they return to school? How can the grandparents’ health be protected when living in a multi-generational household?
It’s realistic to have some worries
The questions literally go and on. What can also go on and on is worry, given that the majority of parents have made the decision to send their kids back to school.
Some degree of worry is to be expected and is completely normal and natural because the concerns and questions are realistic.
Worry and anxiety: not the same thing
While some worrying is realistic, unchecked worry can lead to anxiety. Worry is a part of anxiety but it’s not the same thing. While worry tends to trigger problem solving, anxiety does not. In this way, worry tends to be more productive than anxiety. It is also easier to control and manage worry than it is to control anxiety.
Tips to manage ‘back to school’ worries
- Acknowledge how you are feeling.
This is always the first step to effectively working with our feelings, especially the difficult ones like worry. Simply acknowledge the feeling/s. As the saying goes, what we resist, persists.
- Focus on what you can control.
Reflect on what you do have control over and make a plan. Let go of that which you do not have control over. Holding on is the equivalent of banging your head against the proverbial brick wall. There is no value, for example, in worrying about the precautions other families in your kid’s school are taking because you have no control over this.
Masks. Hand hygiene. Physical distancing. These are all things you and your family can control. Keep informed about the latest public health recommendations. In terms of schools, you may want to read SickKids’ guidance for schools reopening.
Find out the details of your province’s plan for reopening, as well as your local school board’s plan (be prepared for this to be a ‘working document’ which means the plan is likely to change and evolve, and change and evolve, and change and evolve.…)
- Give up a search for certainty.
It just doesn’t exist right now. Trying to find it will lead you down rabbit holes of trying to constantly reassure yourself and/or endlessly scrolling and reading bad news scenarios.
- Know there isn’t a right decision or perfect plan.
This is related to living with uncertainty. Remind yourself you are making the best decisions for your family given your situation and the information you have. Second guessing will deplete you of energy and make it difficult to move forward with any ease at all.
- Remind yourself that you can change your mind, if the situation changes.
It can be reassuring to know that decisions are not carved in stone. There may be something in your kids’ schools, your work or workplace, your parents’ health, etc. that leads you to make different decisions than your initial one for September. This psychological flexibility is a valuable life skill!
A backup plan is a recognition of the uncertainty we are all living in. Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute for the Family, reminds us that this is critical for parents during this pandemic.
- Consciously work with your “what if” and worst-case scenario thoughts.
Turn them into “How will we handle or deal with such and such if that does happen?” This is a deliberate effort to turn worrying into problem-solving. If you know you can handle whatever life hands you, ‘worry’ will have less traction with you and you will be more resilient.
- Schedule worry time.
Postponing worry is an effective strategy. Instead of arguing with your mind and trying to force yourself not to worry, give yourself permission at a designated time in the future. You can even put it in your calendar.
With the postponement, you create some worry-free time for yourself. People often find that the worry or the intensity of the worry has passed when it comes to the scheduled time.
Postponing worry also helps to break a habit of dwelling on worries. As you develop the skill of postponing worrying, you also begin to realize that you have more control than you think.
- Counter worry thoughts with positive supportive statements.
The Canadian Association for Mental Health (CAMH) reminds us that people often overestimate how bad the situation can get but underestimate how well they will be able to cope.
Worrying is a form of negative self-talk. Replace this negative self-talk with positive supportive statements. Remind yourself that your immediate family and your parents have gotten through difficult times before.
Replace catastrophic thoughts with something like, “This is definitely a difficult time, but we will get through it together” or “Whatever happens, we will cope and get through this.” This exercise will help you challenge your worried and anxious thoughts.
- Take care of your daily self care needs.
Worries can actually get worse if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Remember- self care won’t just happen. It requires you taking responsibility for yourself by making a self care plan and schedule.
- Calm your mind and body.
What are the effective ways you manage your worries? We would love to hear from you.