Experts Address Parents' Back-to-School Anxiety, Concerns

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"Am I doing the right thing?"

It's a concern the psychologists and educators at the Momentous Institute keep hearing as North Texas students head back into the classroom.

The Dallas nonprofit organization focuses on child education and mental health, guiding educators and working with families who have survived trauma to build resiliency and strength.

Executive Director and psychologist Dr. Jessica Gomez said social and emotional health for parents and children is vital as we navigate a stressful back-to-school time.

"Back to school is on everyone's mind. 'How do I talk to my child? How do I face anxieties that they are bringing up?'" Gomez said. "What I remind parents is you've learned something. You're not going into this from square one. We've been through something. How do you apply all of that [from the last year] and take care of yourself and set your child up for success."

Laura Ponce said it's the unknowns of this new school year that cause stress. She is worried about school closing again and her five children, ranging from 3 to 11, will be back to virtual learning.

"For me it's been a lot of uncertainty because we don't really know what's going to happen within the next two weeks," Ponce said. "What if we go back to virtual? I'm going to have five computers set up in my dinning room."

Ponce and her children are enrolled in programs through the Momentous Institute that are helping them navigate anxiety.

"I use this cup and saucer example and you're the saucer and when that saucer spills over, how do you take care of yourself first?" Gomez said. "Start with validating your emotions. This is a little uncertain. There is some anxiety. Real anxiety and fears and unknowns, so start by validating that."

Gomez said she often hears parents questioning if they are doing the right thing by sending their child back to school.

"What the science has shown us — that not only for adults but especially for children — [is] they need to be proximal to others in order to develop that social part of the brain," Gomez said. "It's not just strong academics, but you need to have that social part, mental health part really solid to be able to apply it and learn."

The Momentous Institute, which focuses on strengthening education and social and emotional health, has been working with families on with back-to-school anxiety and how to handle the unknowns. Watch the full conversation with Executive Director Dr. Jessica Gomez.

For Ponce and her children breathing exercises seems to work.

"I'll start yelling ... where I'm getting upset and [my children] will say 'Mom, we need to breath. Mom, we need to calm down,'" Ponce said. "So I've noticed if I practice those methods with them not only am I helping myself, but I'm showing them it really does work. And it really does work to keep yourself regulated."

Gomez suggests a quick dance party or walk outside when things start to feel overwhelming.

She also suggests talking to your child's teacher, school counselor and therapists about ways to appropriately address the questions kids may be having. The Momentous Institute also provides a resource for teachers and parents through its blog.

Gomez said more than anything she remains hopeful that as a community we will get through this latest season of uncertainty together.

"I really do hold the torch of hope that we are going to get through this together and I focus on the we, community," she said. "We're going to get through this. We've learned some things. Let's apply it and take care of ourselves."

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