Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments.
Going back to school often creates stress for both kids and parents. This year, coronavirus adds an extra layer of uncertainty and anxiety.
Whether your children attend school remotely, in the classroom, or as a hybrid, the entire family needs healthy coping strategies.
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Stress can affect both your mental and physical health. It’s more important than ever to follow what we know works for managing stress and for keeping new situations from feeling overwhelming.
Maintain your normal routine
Even though school and work schedules may be different than usual, it’s important to maintain a sense of normalcy. That means getting up, getting dressed, and eating as you usually would. A consistent routine helps children feel more secure and less anxious because they know what to expect. Adding structure and order to the day helps it feel less chaotic.
Get a good night’s sleep
Stress and sleep loss go hand in hand. Not getting enough sleep can increase stress during the day. Daily worries can cause insomnia — the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep — according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). NSF recommends that school age children (age 6 to 13) get nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. Teenagers (age 14 to 17) need eight to 10 hours. And adults age 18 to 64 need seven to nine hours.
This mind-body practice can reduce stress and anxiety, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. And it’s something the whole family can do. To get you started, try this virtual seated meditation that guides you through some basic mindfulness steps. Common Sense Media also has a list of meditation apps for kids.
Getting daily exercise is one of the best ways to boost your mood. Physical activity produces endorphins — brain chemicals that act as natural pain killers. They also help you sleep better. A 30-minute walk can help you feel better mentally and physically, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Exercise outdoors at one of Pittsburgh’s local parks to get both fresh air and physical activity. Find a location near you at Pittsburgh Parks Rx, and follow these tips on staying active during COVID-19.
The pandemic comes with its own set of worries. Here are strategies you can use to help your family navigate the stress of COVID-19.
Keep discussion lines open
Talking to your children about stress and COVID-19 can help ease some of their fears — and yours. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has helpful tips for discussing coronavirus with your kids.
Limit your coronavirus news diet
Daily news reports about COVID-19 can leave even the most optimistic person feeling helpless or hopeless. News consumption can make anxiety worse. If you feel anxious or angry after watching the news, it’s time to turn it off. The same goes for social media. Step away from online forums that become contentious or counterproductive.
Create a support system
Chances are other parents and children share the same worries and frustrations. Even when social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus, you can still join virtual support groups. Ask the school or school district if there’s a parent resource forum. It’s a great way to share practical tips on getting through the new normal.
Spend time unplugged
Many school districts are doing some amount of e-learning, so it’s important to reduce additional screen time. Too much time on electronics can cause a host of issues. It can interfere with focus and learning and also lead to eye and neck strain. The blue light can interfere with your body’s sleep/wake cycle, making it harder to fall asleep.
All of these issues can contribute to stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics has an online tool called Create Your Family Media Plan that helps you customize a plan for each child. It’s based on their age, daily schedule, and recommended amount of sleep.
Adjusting to a new normal can take time. Parents and kids can get through these school year challenges by working together.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.