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How parents can keep back-to-school stress in check as pandemic norms shift

Dr. Avanti Bergquist shares ways for parents to manage back-to-school anxiety, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic creates new stresses.

This story was produced in conjunction with the Mindful Headlines podcast, which explores how our psychology intersects with current events. Listen to Dr. Avanti Bergquist share on the podcast about ways parents can manage back-to-school anxiety, including being flexible and knowing when to seek professional help. Watch the conversation with Bergquist on YouTube.

The start of the school year is stressful, and not just for kids – for parents too.

Parents have also been out of practice when it comes to in-person activities: balancing school drop-offs, after-school commitments and returning to the office.

“The start of school is stressful no matter if there’s a pandemic or not,” said Julie Lamb, a working mom of four kids. “It’s busy with all the new activities. Reintegrating into all of that after a year and a half of being out of a lot of those activities is hard to balance.”

RELATED: Students grapple with new social landscape as in-person learning returns

If you’re feeling some anxiety, you’re not alone.

“If you are really having a hard time and your normal coping skills are not working, it’s great to go see a therapist. They’re another person who can help you navigate,” said psychiatrist Dr. Avanti Bergquist, who is also a mom and member of the Renton School Board.

But Bergquist pointed out most parents feel mild anxiety with the new back-to-school routine. She suggested being mindful of how parents show their stress to their kids.

The over-the-top anxiety is not going to help [your kids]. It’s helpful to explain what we’re worried about,” she said. “As adults, sometimes we don’t realize that kids can feel that [anxiety]. When they’re older maybe they can understand it a little better, but not always.”

Bergquist said it’s important for parents, especially those with kids in elementary school, to explain to their children how the school is keeping them safe. She says that can be a reassuring message to kids but also remind adults that school staff are trying to keep children safe.

If you’re worried about COVID-19 protocols at your child’s school, Bergquist said parents should ask directly: email a teacher, principal or district official.

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