ANXIETY at school may not be a new thing, but with the current pandemic in the mix, it might be on another level. Experts say both teachers and parents have noted a sharp increase as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown.

We spoke to Dr Jacques Mostert, who has a PhD in Psychology of Education and is brand academic manager at ADvTECH, who said anxiety is not to be dismissed or taken lightly.

He said teachers and parents could make a huge difference by recognising signs of anxiety in pupils and then respond appropriately before a child takes strain emotionally. “Teachers and parents can recognise the onset of anxiety when a sudden change in behaviour becomes apparent and continues for at least three weeks or longer,” said Mostert. It will help to know the signs to look out for, which Mostert said include inattention and restlessness, attendance problems and clingy kids, disruptive behaviour that’s not typical of the young person, trouble answering questions in class, an increase in problems generally, which could include a sudden poor academic performance in certain subjects where usually there wasn’t a problem.

He said if a child starts avoiding socialising with others and group work, attention must be paid.

“Anxiety is your body’s normal reaction to perceived danger or important events,” said Mostert.

“It’s like your body’s internal alarm system that is set to alert you of dangers that may be life threatening, and it helps your body prepare to deal with danger. However, your internal alarm is not very good at recognising whether the danger you may face is indeed life threatening or not.

“For example, your body reacts by becoming nervous about being late to school and seeing a big spider in the bathroom in the same way. Neither are likely to cause real damage, yet your body remains alert and ready to run away in either case.”

Mostert said anxiety or feeling nervous are normal emotions and can be expected during times of transition and change, especially during times of unprecedented disruption like the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“The news and social media are filled with reports of the danger of Covid-19, the virility of the virus and how to stay safe from infection. This is especially true for children and teens going back to school after their normal routines have been disrupted.

“Even young children who don’t watch news still pick up on the concerns of the adults around them, and constantly have safety measures reinforced in a way they were not before 2020.”

Many parents also remain concerned regarding children’s safety from the virus at school.

“While you as a parent may be stressed about safety and Covid-19 safety procedures, this can be put in context by considering the excellent track records of schools where children have returned.”

He said if a parent has concerns about the anxiety of a child following the identification of symptoms which persist over weeks, they need to start tackling the problem at home, as the first line of response.

“Routine is key in this. The first important step is to reinstate regular routines, including in the morning and evening. Nobody copes well when they are tired or hungry. Anxious children often don’t feel like eating breakfast, they might not feel hungry, or become nauseous after eating breakfast, so start making sure that your child gets back into the habit of getting some nutrition before heading to school.

“Also, make sure that your child wakes up early enough to avoid rushing to get to school. This of course means that you must ensure that your child goes to bed early enough, at a regular time.

“If your child spends hours before going to sleep on a device or social media, this is a habit that needs to end. It is not healthy for children, or adults for that matter.” Mostert noted that if a child becomes unusually quiet, or starts to ramble, this can also be an indication that they are anxious about returning to school.

Mostert also encouraged parents to use the following practical ways to deal with anxiety:

• Practising deep breathing.

• Taking a break and going outside.

• Talking about anxiety openly and objectively.

• Getting moving.

• Walking and talking.

• Practising positive thinking and keeping a gratitude journal.

• Trying to eat as healthily as possible and drinking enough water.