Kristen Davis, president and CEO of Nurture the Next, Tennessee’s largest provider of in-home support for vulnerable families, authored the agency’s latest article about the anxiety and uncertainty facing children as they return to school. You can read it in its entirety below:

Within the next couple of weeks, young Tennesseans will start heading back to school. Unfortunately, after a chaotic 18 months for students dealing with a disjointed education, there remains a great deal of uncertainty at the start of the school year. This dread of the unknown can be hard on our children, causing many to already feel heightened anxiety about returning to the classroom. For some, the excitement of finally seeing their friends in school after so many months at home will outweigh any potential anxiety. But for others, there are simple things that parents can do to help their children overcome these worries.

The best part is that parents don’t have to wait for the school year to begin. Instead, parents can start making small, easy adjustments now that can have a real impact on their child’s emotional and physical health when they return to school.

One way parents can start helping their children now is by building and implementing consistent routines. When a child knows their routine, it removes uncertainty from their day. Knowing the lead-up to the start of their school day is especially helpful for younger children and makes them feel more secure. Of course, the best way to start your child’s day is by making sure they are getting enough sleep. That is why it is important for parents to set and maintain a healthy sleep routine with their child, whether they are attending in-person classes, or virtually attending from home. This stability is crucial for making kids feel comfortable and secure. If you notice that your child is having trouble getting to sleep, try to incorporate more exercise and physical activity into their day, which also has the added benefit of reducing stress levels.

It is also important for parents to make themselves available to their children. It’s likely that your child may want to “debrief” with you about what they are experiencing, and these conversations may come when you least expect it. You can foster these conversations by creating space and opportunities that make it easier for your child to share. This may include going for a walk or baking together–any type of activity where it takes the pressure away from a sit-down, face-to-face conversation. Feel comfortable checking in by asking them questions about their day and emotions but try not to ask leading questions. Instead of asking, “are you nervous about going back to school,” you can phrase it as “how do you feel about going back to school.”

In addition to making yourself available, it can be helpful to share different coping mechanisms that you may have with your child. Whether it’s speaking with family or friends, getting in regular exercise, or a breathing technique that you find helpful, sharing with your child will empower them by showing that it’s something that everyone is going through.

These conversations are also a great opportunity for parents to set the tone with their children. When parents lead with their anxiety, they fuel their children’s. That’s why parents should try to stay calm and positive. Ask your kids what they are looking forward to about returning to school, or what was their favorite part of the school day once they return. You may have to coax some of these answers out, yet it is super helpful to show your child the positive things they have to look forward to, even if it’s as small as playing with a friend.

At Nurture the Next, we understand that this return to school is likely to cause elevated levels of stress and anxiety in parents. That’s why we’re here to help support parents, so they can focus their attention where it matters: on their child. You can learn more about the full services that we offer by visiting our For Parentspage. From in-home support services to text-based mentorships, our organization is sure to have the perfect parenting help intensity level to meet parents’ needs. All our offerings are always completely free and confidential.

Nurture the Next has tools, resources, and support to help parents feel better equipped in helping their children cope with anxiety this school year. Parenting is hard enough; we make sure no one has to go at it alone.