‘This is a really challenging set of circumstances,’ says child psychologist on new school year

Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 9:31 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Parents across the country and state are making tough school decisions including Angelina Vicknair.

“They miss the interaction they were having at school,” said Vicknair, the mother of two.

Her 9 and 6-year-olds are in summer camp. She believes having them in camp is easing them into a different school year.

“They’re operating in smaller groups; everyone has a mask on,” Vicknair said. “We just talk about how that’s going to look different, how the bus is going to be different. How you need to, you know, maintain distance and be respectful of people’s space.”

Ochsner Health’s Child Psychology Section Head, Dr. Jill West, Ph.D., says talking with kids about what to expect, is key.

“They may already have a pretty good idea of what’s going on,” West said. “But there may also be some inaccuracies or some misunderstandings and so that inform part can come in where adults can fill those gaps.”

She says the best way to approach the topic with kids is by following this acronym A.I.R.

· A - Ask: Ask what the child already knows and if they have any concerns or fears related to the virus.

· I - Inform: Parents should be honest but deliver the content in a way that is calming and understandable for the child.

· R - Reassure: Make sure your child feels at ease about the situation

“Parents can also be real,” said West. “Be real about their own emotions. You know, it’s okay for a parent to say, ‘yeah I’m nervous about what it’s going to be like when everyone goes back to school too.’”

West says parents should watch out for changes in their kid’s behavior that could differ depending on age: Preschool – excessive clinging, fear of being alone, changes in appetite, speech difficulties. School-age children (ages 6 -12) – irritability, whining, nightmares, physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches), competition for parent’s behavior. Adolescent (ages 13 – 18) – nausea, headaches, sleep disturbance, crying spells, risk-taking behavior.

Strategies parents can use is practicing coping techniques like breathing exercises, calling a friend or family member, or writing and drawing about how they feel. Parents can reassure their children about their comfort by using terms they can understand.

West says allow kids to ask questions back and try to answer them as honestly as possible, “whether or not you and your household are choosing to speak about it. There are going to be conversations that are had about it.”

It’s a tip, Vicknair is using. “I’m just trying to be upfront with them about what it’s going to look like and just say do you have any questions and typically they may ask a few things but overall, they’re pretty happy about it.”

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