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Back to in-person learning: How to help prepare children who are feeling anxious

Mental health experts say parents should start preparing their children two weeks before the school year starts.

AUSTIN, Texas — As schools across Central Texas prepare for in-person learning this upcoming school year, some parents may also have to prepare their children for the change.  

While many students are excited to see their friends again, some of them may also feel anxious about what going back to the classroom will look like.

Grichell Pelizzari, a licensed family therapist with Thriveworks Pflugerville, recommends that parents start preparing their children soon. 

"If we sit and we talk to our kids and are like, 'What are you worried about? What do you want to know?' They'll tell you and they will, they'll have the most amazing conversations with you," Pelizzari said.

During her therapy sessions recently, Pelizzari has noticed kids having concerns about mask usage, social distancing and re-socializing with other people in person.   

She recommends that children learn breathing mechanisms to help them cope with their feelings, so they can make decisions that will help them. One exercise involves having a child hold their breath for four counts and then releasing for eight counts. 

"That way they know, 'This is how I slow my brain down,' but basically, it is about communication," Pelizzari said.

According to research from Mental Health America, last year, preteens and teenagers between 11 to 17 years old struggled the most with their mental health. The number of teenagers struggling was 9% higher than in 2019.  

The best way to combat this is to prepare children ahead of time, Pelizzari said.

When it comes to returning to school, start reestablishing your child's routine. For example, set a bedtime and make sure your child asks before grabbing a snack from the kitchen.

"This is a good time to get them mentally prepared for what's it going to be like being in the classroom again, having to listen to teachers in a structured setting," Pelizzari said. 

She also recommends you start having your child hang out with friends again if you haven't already.

Pelizzari recommends starting these habits at least two weeks before school starts. However, the most important step is that parents move at a pace that is best for their own child. 

"Have patience. Kids are resilient. Children are so adaptable and resilient, and once they get back to that routine, they'll bounce back," she said.

WATCH: How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting mental health for children and parents

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