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Dave & Dujanovic: Coping with the fear of returning to school

FILE: Desks prepared for students to attend the first day of school at Northridge Elementary in Orem, part of the Alpine School District. Photo: Felicia Martinez, KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY — Some students had trouble dealing with remote learning during lockdown, but others may be coping with a different concern: the fear of returning to school for the first time since spring as the global pandemic rages on. 

Bethanie Monsen-Ford, a nationally certified school psychologist working in the Davis School District,  joined Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to discuss the mental health toll on students attending school in person after a hiatus.

The fear of returning to school

“Would it be common for a child to start acting out? Not really being themselves because of these changes [to school routines]?” Dave asked.

“Yes, for sure,” said Monsen-Ford. “The beginning of school year every year is a bit of a challenge for school psychologists, school counselors and social workers. It’s kind of our normal to go over some of those types of behaviors. This year that’s amplified to the nth degree. 

“Are they having any sleep in changes? That’s one of the biggest things to watch for in all ages of children,” she continued. “Whether that’s too much sleep, restless sleep or not being able to maintain sleep. You might also see some diet changes. Sometimes anxiety does looks different in younger children. It may sometimes look more like acting out, emotional outbursts, irritability. It could be more of that traditional withdrawal.”

Children might display anxious behavior such as asking repetitive questions and checking in more often about what’s happening, why is it happening, said Monsen-Ford.

The unknown of the virus

She added that those types of questions are challenging for adults right now because there is still so much unknown about the coronavirus pandemic.

“But it’s OK as an adult to say, ‘You know, I’m not quite sure about that, but this is what I do know and this is what I’m going to do to support you,'” said Monsen-Ford.

“As a parent, is there perhaps a delayed onset that we need to be looking for with fear and anxiety as the school year moves on?” Debbie asked.

“Really be mindful of those symptoms in your children all throughout the year,” said Monsen-Ford. “My biggest suggestion to every parent around the state is every district is different, but all districts are either going to have a school counselor, a school psychologist, which is my degree, or a social worker. All of us are here to support students and family whether it’s the beginning, middle or end of the year or any day in between. That’s our job.

“If you start to notice some of those things, please reach out,” she asked. “We need to be coming together because there’s so many areas of concern and need for students. So my biggest suggestion is reach out. Call your administrator, and say ‘I noticed this. Can we set up a meeting to chat with one of those professionals.’ We’re here to help you. Please do not be doing this on your own. This is a time when we really need to lean into each other.” 


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play