Psychologist breaks down dealing with back-to-school stress

Dr Tracy Alloway a psychologist at UNF joins us to discuss the stress of going back to school during a pandemic.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Faced with the coronavirus pandemic and worried about their children’s safety, mothers and fathers are under a lot of stress.

Dr. Tracy Alloway, a psychology professor for the University of North Florida, joined The Morning Show on Monday to share some healthy habits and key things for parents to remember during this time.

Below you’ll find a brief Q&A (you can watch the full segment above):

How do parents emotionally reconcile things?

Alloway: “The first key as a parent to keep in mind is to avoid pre-purchasing worry for your child. And that’s the idea that if you as a parent are feeling worried or anxiety or stress, don’t transmit that or communicate it to your child. So instead of saying, ‘Are you worried about school starting, honey? Are you concerned about the first day of school?’ keep it open-ended. When you ask them, ‘Are you worried?’ you’re pre-purchasing their worry. You’re taking your worry and putting it on them. They may be really excited to go back and see their friends. The better way to frame the question as a parent who is speaking to your child is to say, ‘How are you feeling about school starting?’”

What do you say to anxious students? How can we make them feel comfortable?

Alloway: “For the children, it’s really important for them to be able to distinguish, ‘What is in my control?’ and ‘What is not in my control?’ So getting them to do this self-talk, this talking aloud. If they say, ‘You know, I’m really worried about X,’ well, ask them right away, ‘Can you change that? If you can, what are steps you can do. If you can’t change that, then what can we control?’ And keeping familiar routines is a great tip for parents to be able to keep things within the control of the child.”

What about the things children don’t say?

Alloway: “As a psychologist, I see a lot of these what we call somatic symptomology. Children who do experience stress and worry will transfer that into a physical symptom. They may start saying, ‘Oh my stomach hurts,’ or ‘my head hurts,’ or ‘my arm hurts.’ There’s no physical reason for that pain or that concern. As a parent you want to be extra attentive to know if they’re complaining more about stomach aches and so on, that it could be a sign that they are feeling stress and anxiety but don’t know how to communicate those emotions to you as a parent.”

About the Author:

This Emmy Award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist has anchored The Morning Show for 18 years.