Lesson Plan for Back to School: Keeping Things Safe and Keeping Things Sane

Some children in the United States are back in the classroom, while others are still getting ready for the new school year. The Mountain region (which includes Colorado) tends to see students returning around the middle of August

Back-to-school can be both exciting and/or stressful, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still a factor (along with variants), that complicates things. 

Children younger than 12 are not approved for vaccinations, and not all 12- to-17-year-olds are getting the shot. With more than 50 million students returning to school, this could cause a major spread in coronavirus cases.

Some people are content to let the chips fall where they may, while others fear what back-to-school may bring. That can result in stress and anxiety. 

CDC Back-to-School Guidelines

Colorado is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those include recommendations for:

  • All students, staff, teachers, and school visitors to wear masks when indoors
  • Maintaining a three-foot distance from others to minimize transmission risk
  • Hygiene measures like hand-washing

Testing is also suggested, usually within three to five days following confirmed or suspected exposure to COVID. That goes for vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, as well as whether someone exhibits symptoms or not.

Mental Health

Mental health shouldn’t be forgotten in all this. Some students may:

  • Fear they’ll get sick
  • Worry they’ll spread COVID
  • Grieve the loss of loved ones
  • Live in a home struggling with reduced income
  • Experience anxiety or depression
  • Cope with suicidal thoughts
  • Experience or witness xenophobia and racism

Signs of Stress

Stress and trauma’s effects on mental health have been well documented. Safety measures can help prevent the spread of COVID, bringing some peace of mind, but being on the lookout for signs of stress among children and adolescents is a good idea. Stress manifests in many ways among children and teens.

Among infants, toddlers, and young children stress may lead to:

  • Stalled developmental milestones
  • Biting, tantrums, crying more easily, or fussier behaviors
  • Sleep troubles 
  • Stomach pain, or digestive complaints

Older children and adolescents may:

  • Have mood changes
  • Grow distant
  • Sleep excessively or struggle to fall asleep
  • Lose or gain weight, or eating patterns will change
  • Show less interest in schoolwork or activities they once enjoyed
  • Engage in reckless behaviors like taking drugs
  • Talk about suicide or death

Watching out for signs of stress and anxiety is a solid first step. If a problem seems to be developing, pediatricians can screen for problems. Counseling also can help through loss and grief.

Helping children to build resilience, typically through a strong support network that helps them endure and rise above challenging situations, is also excellent for mental health and wellbeing. That can be developed at any time, but the younger, the better.


pewresearch.org – ‘Back to school’ means anytime from late July to after Labor Day, depending on where in the U.S. you live

usnews.com – America’s Children Head Back to School Amid Growing Uncertainty

covid19.colorado.gov – Practical Guide for Operationalizing CDC’s School Guidance

cdc.gov – Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools

healthychildren.org – Safe Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Mental Health Issues Facing the Asian American Community 

healthychildren.org – Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support

developingchild.harvard.edu – Resilence

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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