Dealing with the anxiety of back to school decisions


HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Should you send your child to school this year or have them do virtual learning? Will they get sick with COVID-19 if they go to school? Could they bring sickness home? What could happen to them developmentally if they don’t go to school … or if they do go to school?

If these questions are racing through your mind lately, you are not alone.

WAVY News Anchor Katie Collett spoke with a counselor and a nurse practitioner in Virginia Beach about the best mindset parents should take as they make decisions during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a lot of parents who don’t want to have those regrets. They want to do what’s best, but then if there’s a bad outcome, you know, realizing that they made those decisions and they could have made a different one. So that’s the struggle with a lot of families right now, trying to figure out what to do,” said Justin Ray, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Fairfield Psychological Associates.

Both Ray and his colleague Megan Sweeney say there has been a boom in parents and teachers contacting them for help to find calm and clarity when it comes to going back to school.

“Last week, I had a teacher who teaches in the Virginia Beach public school system — basically had a panic attack right in front of me in a session because she was concerned about ‘How do I make a decision to go back into the classroom?’ and then ‘What’s going to happen to my elementary school-aged child when they potentially have to stay home for two days while I go to work for four or five days?'” said Sweeney, a licensed professional counselor.

So, what advice did Megan have for the teacher? She says it’s the same advice she gives parents trying to make decisions about school.

“As the session evolved, we really concentrated on the fact that, number 1, a decision will have to be made, but it doesn’t need to be made right now because there’s not enough information to make that decision. So, where she was panicked in the moment about having to make a decision right in that moment, we’re several weeks away from having to make a decision, and we’re not clear yet, and I think this is contributing to people’s anxiety.”  

Megan went on to say: “We don’t yet know what the plan is, so until we have a plan in place, then we can just wait and make a decision. We use a lot of, and I’m sure Justin uses it too, grounding techniques like ‘All we know is the present, right here in the moment.’ So, what’s going on in the moment, and then she counted all of the blessings she had in the moment, and that they’re happy and healthy and even though quarantine is not ideal or optimal, her family right now is safe, and then we reiterated the fact that when it does come time to make a decision, all of us are going to have to make a decision based upon what we feel is safe and ideal for our person or our family or loved ones.”

Ray says many families are facing a struggle about the best way to make this decision to go back to school.

“You may have your daughter who says, ‘I want to be going to school. I want the choice. If the choice is going to school, I want to do that,’ but you may have the parent saying, ‘You know, I’m not okay with that.’ So then you have an internal conflict within the family about what’s best, and the reality is, nobody knows. We have zero idea of what we’re doing. This is unprecedented territory.”

Ray says he regularly shares this advice with those who come to him for help: “Be calm. These are fluid situations. What is happening right now, what’s being proposed right now will not end up being the end result.”

“So, is it okay not to know right now? Yes,” said Sweeney. “When we get a little bit more information or we get a little bit more knowledge on how to make the decision, then we make it, but for right now let’s just keep our lives simple.”

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