Local pediatrician’s advice for kids, parents with back-to-school anxiety

BOSTON — Kids across the state headed back to the classroom, some, for the first time, on Monday, April 5.

After the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary education set a requirement that districts bring back elementary students full-time, in-person five days a week, effective Monday.

PREVIOUS: 90% of MA school districts returning elementary students to in-person learning by April 5, DESE says

It will be an adjustment, and that may come with anxiety for a lot of students. Many students have been learning from home at least part of the time for over a year now.

9-year-old Isabella Scanlan hasn’t been in school since before the pandemic started, back when she was a second-grader. Now, more than halfway through the school year, she’ll be in a third-grade classroom in-person for the first time.

“I just don’t know where the third-grade area is. It’s like upstairs, but there’s like three different areas where there’s fourth and fifth and third, and I have no idea where it is,” Isabella told Heather.

Isabella lives in Needham, where students have been able to go to school in person for four days, every other week...

But her sister is medically fragile, so Isabella has stayed home all this time.

She says while she’s not the “new kid,” it feels that way.

Now, with DESE requiring all districts to bring kindergarten through 5th graders back in-person full time, students across the state are in the same boat.

Dr. Elizabeth Tisei is a Pediatrician at Roslindale Pediatrics. She has spent a good deal of time talking to her young patients about some heavy topics, like depression and anxiety, as students adjust to yet another change.

“The past year has been a time of tremendous change for a lot of kids and a lot of families are suffering too: either they’ve had a loss of a loved one or parents have lost their jobs,” said Dr. Tisei. “There’s concern about ‘Am I going to do the wrong thing? Am I going to say the wrong thing? Am I going to break the new rules for what’s appropriate in school? Am I going to forget my mask?’ Little things that can kind of build up inside a child’s brain.”

Another source of anxiety: social groups.

Dr. Tisei said, especially middle school and high school-aged kids, the pandemic and school cohorts could have caused a tremendous shift in social structure. Also, it’s during a period when teens are going through tremendous periods of rapid physical change. They may look different when they return to school.

“They probably don’t look the same as they did a year ago,” said Dr. Tisei.

Her advice to parents?

“The most important thing is reassurance for these kids and letting them know that we’re not looking for perfection here. We’re emphasizing effort and attitude and perseverance and not performance,” she said.

Dr. Tisei also said kids deserve a lot of credit for being so resilient during what has not only been a year of sacrifice for adults but for kids too.

She points out they’ve sacrificed sports, academics, social interactions, and they’ve stepped up. As a pediatrician, she thinks kids learn best in general when they’re at school.

She added that going back may not be best for every child, but broadly speaking, it is the best for kids’ mental health.

About ninety percent of Massachusetts school districts welcomed their elementary students back in the classroom full-time on April 5, according to DESE.

DESE received 74 requests from school districts for waivers and granted 58. Brockton, Chelsea, Somerville, and Springfield all had waivers approved because their school districts have been fully remote for the entire school year.