Feelings of Loss, Uncertainty, Anxiety Burden Parents, Children

The disruptive shift to virtual schooling burdened students with feelings of loss and forced parents to search for ways to help.

“My teenagers at home and in my practice have all said, ‘You know what, I hated school before, now I miss it more than anything in the world,” said Gillian de La Sayette, a licensed professional counselor and Dallas International School (DIS) parent.

De La Sayette served as a panelist for the latest installment in an ongoing DIS webinar series for educators, families, and students in the Dallas area. “Managing Mental Well-Being Through COVID-19” explored ways adults could help students manage pandemic-induced pressures and anxiety.

If children are showing symptoms, like “not finding joy in activities like funny movies, not wanting to join in family activities, maybe not speaking at mealtime, things that aren’t normal for that child, then maybe there would be some concern,” de La Sayette said.

Other May 28 panelists included Dr. Jennifer Hughes, a psychologist and professor at UT Southwestern, and Kelley Loyd and Kym Brinkley, both Dallas International School counselors.

“Right now, there’s just a lot of those [feelings] going around because of how much collective loss we’re experiencing.”

Dr. Jennifer Hughes, psychologist & professor at UT Southwestern

Brinkley has had parents reach out to discuss not only their children’s changes in behavior, time management, and more but also their personal struggles with similar anxieties.

“It doesn’t matter what age we are,” Brinkley said. “I think especially when we’re in a new time or in a time of transition or where there’s lots of unknowns, just being able to say, ‘Yeah,’ or ‘Me too,’ or just to be with someone and listen” is essential and understanding one another’s feelings can help facilitate discussions.

When parents feel overwhelmed or frustrated, de La Sayette recommends taking time for themselves.

“All of those things that we tell our kids it’s OK to do when they’re feeling frustrated, it’s OK for us to do that too because if we’re not taking care of our emotional health, it’s going to be hard to take care of their emotional health,” de La Sayette said.

Hughes suggested parents can help children focus on things that have stayed the same such as friendships and family.

“Some of the things that are important are still around and there,” Hughes said. “Your interactions with those things may be changing, but you do still have that.”

Panelists urged parents to use summer to prepare children for the return to school in the fall by taking such steps as wearing masks on short outings so that precautions can become second nature.

“There’s an age where you really like structure, you like the rules, you like people to follow the rules, so in ways, this plays into that developmental age very nicely,” Hughes said.

It’s OK for children to grieve the loss of missed occasions or routines, and parents should help them process and validate those emotions, panelists said.

“It so does start with that ability to notice a feeling and label it,” Hughes said. “Right now, there’s just a lot of those [feelings] going around because of how much collective loss we’re experiencing.”

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