Educators are keenly aware of the critical role they play in shaping children's futures. And we all know that responsibility extends far beyond lesson plans and homework as many—if not all—teachers also provide support to students who exhibit anxiety and challenging behaviors. Post-2020 teaching environments are requiring educators to address more student anxiety and trauma than ever before, as students and teachers re-acclimate to in-person learning.
But it’s important to remember that parents struggle with school transitions too.
So, what do educators do when they find themselves needing to alleviate parental anxiety about their children’s re-acclimation to the classroom? The same strategies you use to help your students experiencing anxiety—as well as those you use to calm your own emotions—are important to remember as you encounter parents exhibiting anxiety-driven behaviors.
Let’s walk through techniques you can use throughout the school year to help alleviate parental anxiety.
Have a Plan and Communicate it
It’s instinctual for parents to want to protect and prevent their children from any sort of distress. It’s even more understandable that sending them back to school, while many external unknowns remain, can heighten the anxiety parents are experiencing. Something as simple as keeping parents in the loop regarding classroom expectations, cleaning protocols, and environmental design can help fill in those blanks. Have your plan in place and clearly communicated to both students and their parents.
Expectations should also be communicated. Parents should have a clear understanding of what you’re expecting from them, what they can expect from you as the teacher, and what you both will be expecting of their child.
Remember that Behavior Influences Behavior
At CPI, we refer to this as the Integrated Experience—the understanding that our own emotions and behaviors influence those around us. When speaking with parents, don’t push aside their fears and concerns, and don’t try to diminish them. Rather, provide reassurance in a calm and confident manner. Acknowledge their concerns first; reassure second. Helping to alleviate parental anxiety ultimately eases their children’s concerns as well. Soon you’ll create a chain reaction of calm that influences the entire classroom.
Encourage Parental Involvement
Remaining involved in their children’s activities is a great way to help parents feel more comfortable with the learning environment. Create opportunities that allow parents to experience the classroom, such as scheduled open houses for parents to tour the classroom, ask questions in a 1:1 format, and acclimate to the environment themselves.
Build methods for parents to actively participate in their children’s learning. This can be as simple as developing homework assignments that parents can partake in (family history charts, science projects, etc.). Create volunteer opportunities both in and out of the classroom, such as a “Reader of the Week” that provides parents with the chance to interact with learners, or having a parent share their knowledge of a foreign language in a presentation to the class. All of these methods help parents feel more connected to their children while they’re away at school. Greater connection often results in lessened anxiety.
Check In Often
Inconsistency is something you frequently dealt with as an educator in 2020, just as your students and their parents did. Understand that you cannot control all aspects of the learning environment, but what you can control is providing consistent communication with parents. Schedule monthly check-ins on your calendar to reach out to parents, assess how they’re feeling, and address any new concerns that may have surfaced.
Do the same check-ins with your students; ask them frequently how they are feeling and help to support them. The Integrated Experience tells us that they may be carrying some of their parent’s anxieties with them, so addressing both students and parents is critical.
Keep Tabs on Your Own Anxieties
It’s difficult to alleviate parental anxiety when you yourself are facing the same concerns. Remember to focus on what you can control—your own behavior—and turn your attention to the present. Don’t be afraid to lean on your fellow educators for support. Develop your classroom plans and expectations together, ensure a unified front for the school year, and reassure one another when anxieties flair.
We would love to hear what techniques you’ve used to successfully alleviate anxiety in the parents of your students. If you’re also a parent, what has helped you handle the transition back to school? Comment below to share your feedback with your fellow educators.