As restrictions eased this summer, UPMC Child Psychologist Dr. Melissa Brown saw a mixed bag of emotions in her patients.

While some kids celebrated, others were far more cautious.

“Some of the kids are just anxious about what the new rules are going to be,” she said.

Brown says routine is vital for success in most kids and the unknowns at the start of this school year could make that a challenge. She says parents can ease those fears by helping kids to focus on what is known.

“What I really try to teach parents is to flip that on the kiddo and find out what are they really worried about,” Brown said. “So it’s important to help them focus on what they can control and what they can do rather than focus on what they can’t do and what that negative part is.”

If you haven’t already, talk about the start of school and try to answer any questions using words your kids will understand. Pay attention to eating and sleeping habits, excessive worry or increased irritation. Those changes could signal a deeper issue.

And if a child struggles with the idea of a maskless classroom this year, try to understand where they’re coming from.

“Kids struggle with that back and forth rules changing and not knowing what to expect,” Brown said. “So we’re saying for the past year, ‘masks masks masks, wash your hands, wash your hands COVID is dangerous,’ and we’ve been emphasizing that over and over for our children.”

Brown says she would encourage those kids to wear a mask if it makes them more comfortable because it can give them a sense of control. Parents will want to monitor them to make sure their fear isn’t getting worse.

And while Brown says she’s seen some back-to-school anxiety related to COVID-19 and the uncertainty at the start of a new year, she says the majority of kids seem excited to return to the classroom and to their friends.