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My fifth grader experiences quite a lot of anxiety in general, and understandably he has been particularly anxious during the pandemic. He’s still in remote learning (we opted to keep him home for now even though school is open in-person again), but in the fall he will go back into the building. He’ll also be in a new school since he will have transitioned to middle school. So he’s worried about that. He’s also very anxious about getting back to some of our “normal” activities. His grandparents are fully vaccinated, but he doesn’t want to take his mask off around them because he’s scared of making them sick, or getting sick himself. He’s worried at the park if he sees a child not wearing a mask, even if they’re far away. I’m sad for him because I’d like him to start to socialize a bit more with his friends and family and enjoy outdoor activities, but he is pretty paralyzed right now.

Worried in Wisconsin

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Whitney Henderson

Whitney Henderson is EdNavigator's Chief Program Officer. She brings more than a decade of experience as an award-winning teacher, school leader, and instructional expert.

Dear Worried,

I’m so sorry. It’s hard to see your child anxious and struggling. As Dr. Denise Gilstrap reminds us in this week’s Kinda Guide feature story, rates of anxiety and depression among kids are way up this year. It sounds like your son got attached to the Covid precautions to help himself feel safe and secure, and now that some of the “rules” are changing, it’s bringing out a new layer of anxiety for him. That’s probably going to be true for many of us in the months to come.

I’d suggest a few things, if you haven’t already tried these avenues:

Reach out to school. Don’t feel like you have to support your son alone. Dr. Gilstrap suggests using the school counselor as a first touchpoint, even though your son is currently remote. They may be able to provide your son directly with some additional support, and if he needs more than what school can offer, they can hopefully refer your family to alternative resources in the community. Talking to his teacher might be another good option, if he’s comfortable with it. If his anxiety is affecting his ability to focus on school work or participate fully in his remote lessons, it’s important that his teacher knows what’s going on so you can problem-solve together and make sure he feels confident in class.

Give him some (developmentally appropriate) facts. Some of his anxiety may come from misinformation he’s heard on the playground, for example, or just from not having a solid understanding of the facts (especially since they’re changing so quickly!). After so long having to see people only outdoors and masked, it’s understandably hard to make the psychological leap to “Okay, now I can just act normal around my grandparents again?” It might help him to develop a clear understanding of the science behind vaccines and why and how they work. Consider watching a video or reading an article together that lays out how vaccines build immunity by helping our bodies make antibodies. (Take a look at this SciShow video that explains vaccines, with a special focus on the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And here’s a shorter animated explainer from PBS.)

Reset routines at home. Even though he’ll still be in remote school until the fall, it might be worth starting to reset some home and school routines now so everyone has a chance to adjust. This might help ease your son into the transition back to “normal” life (such as it is). Have bedtimes and wake-up times shifted during the pandemic? What about meal routines? Is your son getting dressed in his regular school clothes at the start of each day? Try to shift those things back to their normal (or new normal) routines. Consider adding a regular outdoor hangout with a trusted friend to the weekly calendar, too, so your son can ease back into socializing in a way that feels safe for him.

Prepare him for what’s ahead. If you haven’t already, start gathering information from his new school about what next year will look like. Will social distancing guidelines be in place, and what will they entail? What about masking? Since your son is moving to middle school, will he be switching classes or will students be “podded up”? As we get closer to fall, talk through all of these plans with your son so he knows what to expect and can feel prepared.