Yes, reentry anxiety is a real phenomenon. After enduring 15 months of some form of lockdown, many of us are collectively attempting to shake off the trauma experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, contact with extended family and friends was limited, leaving many feeling disconnected from typical supports. Working parents experienced the stress of caring for children 24/7, while also juggling the demands of jobs. Many families faced employment loss and financial hardship. Children may have been anxious about the health and safety of parents or grandparents, and some did lose loved ones to illness or death.
Unfortunately, we may not be in the clear, yet. Masking and other restrictions have been lifted in California, but we have yet to understand the impact of the COVID variants, less than stellar vaccine rates and the possibility that even the vaccinated will need a booster shot. Some parents feel anxious about exposing their under-12 children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Ironically, we are such creatures of habit, that, over time, many of us grew accustomed to hiding away at home and may feel unsafe or experience reentry anxiety as we move back to our pre-pandemic routines. Although often resilient, children are also vulnerable to reentry stress. They need adult guidance and support to help negotiate a return to community life. Here are 4 steps parents can take to ease the way for their children and themselves:
- Listen reflectively to your child’s concerns and fears, validating feelings rather than jumping to solutions. Try to contain your anxiety to serve as a calming presence for your child. Children look to parents to set the tone.
- Take it slowly, gradually resuming activities and helping your child identify what he is looking forward to. Be careful not to push your child too quickly, while at the same time supporting growth and change.
- Let children know about new plans. Keeping a family calendar that your child can see may help her visualize the upcoming weeks and ease her stress.
- Keep a resilient mindset. Talk about the new ways you learned to spend time together as a family during COVID and what new habits you’d like to keep. Demonstrate curiosity, rather than fear, about any societal changes your children observe post-lockdown.
If you are noticing any unusual behaviors in your child, such as withdrawal, sleep issues, stomach complaints or headaches, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional who can help you and your family through this adjustment period.