How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transitionOur pets have gotten quite used to us working from home and they also absolutely enjoy having the kids home for the summer, or in some cases, since the pandemic hit. Why? They are no longer alone all day for hours on end. This is especially true for dogs, as they are typically much more needy and attached to their owners than other animals.

If your kids are preparing to go back the classroom, or you are heading back to the office and waving so long to remote work, Animal Oasis has a few tips to help your pets transition into long periods of being alone.

Tip #1 Get Their Energy Out Before You Leave
If you have a healthy pet that can benefit from some daily activity, get them moving. Taking them for extra long walks (be careful they are not overheated) or playing fetch or even playing with them in the house for a while before you leave for the day will help them tolerate being alone better. They will enjoy the bonding time with you and, they will be tired and probably find it easy to sleep during most of the day.

If you or your kids are gone for long hours, having a pet sitter, dog walker, or friend stop by and visit with them or exercise them again mid-day is very helpful, especially for animals with separation anxiety or those that need extra exercise.

If you and your family do not return until it’s dark outside, make sure to leave a night light or some form of light on for your pets. Most pets can see in the dark, but light will make them more comfortable and may make them think that it is still daylight and that you haven’t been gone so long.

Tip #2 Background Noise
It can be helpful to leave the television on low or a music channel. There is even music made especially for animals to relieve anxiety. You can search for those online or on your smart TV.

Tip #3 Water and a Comfortable Resting Area
Make sure your pets have plenty of fresh water, food, and toys available to provide nutrients for their bodies and adequate hydration. It’s also critical to provide a comfortable bed, mat, or soft area for them to sleep and rest. Leaving a few toys out for them to play with is also helpful. Many toys are interactive nowadays and keep pets occupied for longer periods.

Tip #4 Security Cameras
If you are using a webcam to keep an eye on your pets, please remember not to use the microphone to speak to them if they are not used to this. Otherwise, it will confuse them and cause distress. You can try and get your pet used to you speaking to them through the microphone while you are in another area of your home and for short periods of time at first.

Tip #5 Calming Pills and Treats
Calming supplements can ease your pet’s anxiety. Before you leave the house, give your pet the recommended dosage of these all-natural, anti-anxiety medications, as this can help your pet feel more at ease during times alone.

Animal Oasis Hospital also offers stronger anti-anxiety medications by prescription, depending on the severity of your pet’s disorder. It’s important to speak to your veterinarian about these medications before hurricane season gets into full swing.

Animal Oasis Veterinary Hospital in Naples offers the most up to date and progressive veterinary services for your pets. Ranging from laser surgery, ultrasound, dental X-rays, radiology, full pharmacy, and in house diagnostics, Animal Oasis Veterinary Hospital provides your pets with the necessary options for treatment.

Contact Animal Oasis Veterinary Hospital to schedule vaccinations, pick up paperwork, and extra medications for your pets today!

  • School
  • Pets
  • Coping

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

It is back to school month how is your pet coping? You can prepare your pet by easing them into a new schedule, talking to your vet, enrolling your pet too, introducing new tricks, and much more.

As we bid summer goodbye, we’re now excited for Back to School Month. Whether you are a
parent to a first-time schooler or sending off your kids to college, preparing for the upcoming
school year can be downright overwhelming. Between planning your schedule around your kids’
schedule to shopping for school supplies, you are in for a busy few weeks.

Back to school month how is your pet coping

But while you’re all set for the new school year, here’s a curious question: is your pet ready for
the new school year?

As surprising it is for you, your pet needs time to adapt to the changes this new setup brings.
After a few months of uninterrupted playtime and undivided attention, your pet suddenly has to
deal with the absence of its playmate and buddy. Imagine Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang
all anxious and worried when Andy was leaving for college. Your pet may not go through the
lengths the toys went through but your pet will definitely be upset once it starts to notice that its
favorite human is not available for their usual playtime or worse, its playmate is nowhere to be
found. And just as with humans, dogs and cats are prone to separation anxiety and depression
when left alone. In fact, cats who have a history of abuse, abandonment, and being passed
between multiple owners are prone to separation anxiety. Cats with separation anxiety will show
signs of excessive meowing, loss of appetite, excessive self-grooming, trying to escape or
hiding, and destructive behavior.

Fret not, just as you emotionally and mentally prepare your kids and yourself for the imminent
changes, you can also prepare your pet. Here are some tips on how to prepare your pet this
Back to School Month:

1. Ease your pets to a new schedule. To help your pet get used to your child’s absence,
start with short absences to get your pet comfortable with the approaching changes.
Plan a sleepover for your kid at a friend’s or a relative’s house. This way, your pet will get
accustomed to his or her absence.

2. Have other family members take over the feeding or walking duties. If your pet is
used to having just one person walking or feeding it, there’s a higher chance of the pet
being attached to that person. To avoid this, have other family members take turns in
feeding or walking your pet. This will help your pet get accustomed to seeing other
people take care of it.

3. Introduce new tricks to your pet. Learning new tricks will get your pet to focus on
something fun. This will also help your pet form a stronger bond with other family

4. Pets and toys. Place your pet’s favorite toys around the house once your kids leave the
house for school. This will distract your pet and divert its focus on the toys while the kids
are away. Once your kids come home from school, put away the toys and give them to your
pet again once the kids leave for school. This tells your pet that the kids’ departure is
“safe” and assures it that your kids will come back.

5. Toss a shirt or two of your kid. Animals have a stronger sense of smell so make sure
to take advantage of it. Ask your child to sleep in t-shirts he or she no longer wants so
you can put these in your pet’s bed after your child leaves for school. This will come in
handy especially if you have a kid bound for college.

6. Make goodbyes short and casual. Pets take emotional cues from their pet parents so
make sure the kids are calm when they leave for school. Don’t make a big deal about
leaving the house or saying goodbye. This prevents your pet from being anxious and

7. Enroll your dog, too! If you have a pet dog, consider enrolling it in a training class to
keep it busy and to give it something else to look forward to. A few new tricks to show
the family won’t hurt, right?

8. Talk to your vet. If your pet still shows signs of separation anxiety or depression, it’s
best to visit your veterinarian to advise you on what steps to take.

9. Give your pet some TLC. Whether or not you’re your pet’s favorite human, don’t forget
to give it some tender loving care. Your pet will surely appreciate it.

By following these tips you’re guaranteed a smooth transition for the entire family (pets
included!) Now, who’s ready for school?

If you have kids heading back to school, be sure to pause somewhere in between choreographing school pickups and drop-offs and stocking up on school supplies to consider how this new schedule will affect your pets. After an entire summer of basking in your kids’ presence and enjoying extended family time, suddenly leaving your dog home alone is bound to upset him, and he’s not the only one. Leaving a cat alone can also result in anxiety and depression. Read on for tips on helping your pets cope with the new school year.

Separation Anxiety

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transitionDogs are particularly at risk during the back-to-school season for developing separation anxiety: a disorder characterized by digging and scratching in an attempt to escape, excessive howling and whining, destructive chewing, a lapse in potty training and overall just a change in mood. Major change to the family routine is a potential trigger for this disorder. So is suddenly leaving your dog home alone after he’s gotten used to constant human companionship.

While healthy, well-adjusted cats are less prone to separation anxiety under these circumstances, at-risk cats, which include those with a history of abandonment, trauma, abuse, or being passed between multiple owners, are vulnerable to this disorder, says PetMD. Cats or kittens that have an especially strong bond with your child may also be at risk once their favorite person disappears for hours at a time. In cats, separation anxiety often looks like trembling, withdrawing, hiding and trying to escape, loss of appetite, change in mood, and an upset stomach resulting in diarrhea.

Easing the Transition

You can help your pets avoid separation anxiety by easing them into the new schedule. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends that you begin with short absences to get your pet comfortable with the idea of you leaving, and gradually lengthening these absences during the weeks leading up to the new schedule. Pets, especially dogs, tend to take their emotional cues from their pet parents, so it’s important to stay calm and not to make a big deal about leaving or saying goodbye. If you’re concerned about destructive behavior or house soiling, you might also want to consider crate training. Again, this is something that should be eased into gradually, giving your pet plenty of time to acclimate to the idea.

Helping Pets Cope

You can also use toys and treats to distract your pet from your absence. The ASPCA suggests giving your dog a food-stuffed toy filled with his favorite dog treats that will keep his focus during the first half-hour or so of your absence. By putting this toy away when you get home and only giving it to him when you leave, the ASPCA says this will also signal to him that your departure is “safe” and he can count on your return. Cats can also benefit from toys to distract and entertain them while the family is gone. A window perch with a view of a birdhouse or other wildlife will also help to keep your kitty happy. Hiding pieces of dry cat food around the house is also an excellent way to keep her busy and distract her from missing her family.

Once the family is back together in the evenings, be sure to shower attention on your pets to reassure them that they’re not forgotten. It’s also important to provide them with plenty of exercise, which will also help them stay calm and relaxed during the day.

If you try these tips and your pet still shows signs of anxiety or depression once the new schedule starts, talk to your veterinarian. He or she may recommend a number of treatment options to help your pet, ranging from behavior training to pheromone treatment to anti-anxiety medication.

Hopefully, by being mindful of your pet’s emotional state while preparing for the school year, the entire family will transition smoothly into the new schedule, your four-legged family members included.

Contributor Bio

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

Leaving the house just over a month ago to receive my first Covid-19 vaccination, I felt exhilarated — a milestone step toward some semblance of freedom. But when I returned a few hours later, I discovered that not everyone in my household was thrilled by the outing: Bronte, my 10-year-old golden retriever, had dragged my pajamas out of my bed and deposited them in the living room in a wet, pulpy, chewed-up mess.

Like so many pampered pooches whose owners have been home full time during the pandemic, Bronte has come to expect me to be by her side 24/7.

I was surprised that she had reverted back to such puppy-like behavior. She’s usually a well-adjusted, confident dog. However, like so many pampered pooches whose owners have been home full time during the pandemic, Bronte has come to expect me to be by her side 24/7.

As people get vaccinated and readjust to leaving home for work and school, their beloved canines need to readjust, too: The pandemic’s dog days are coming to an end.

That change can be hard for owners as well as pets. Steviee Hughes, the beverage director for a restaurant in Los Angeles who’s been furloughed since March 2020, has been used to having her 12-year-old pit bull, Zeus, constantly by her side.

“During this past year he went everywhere with me,” she said. “We went camping, to the store, random road trips. He was so happy I was home all day.”

But now, Hughes has returned to work four days a week. She said Zeus initially “seemed a little confused” as to why he couldn’t go with her when she left the house. Sometimes he seemed more than confused: “He acted out a few times, like peeing on my couch ottoman.”

While he’s still “a little bummed” that he can’t go to work with Hughes, she said he’s starting to get used to the new normal — particularly since, after Hughes’ recent move, it now includes a large patio.

“I even bought patio furniture that I knew he would enjoy lying on,” she said.

Professional dog trainer and dog behavior consultant Michelle Stern praised Hughes’ purchase.

“Setting your dog up with a comfortable space to rest when you’re gone is a great idea,” Stern said, “and if they don’t show signs of destructive behavior, give them free rein of the house.”


Opinion We want to hear what you THINK. Please submit a letter to the editor.

For my part, Bronte already has free rein of the house, and if I’m lucky, she lets me share a tiny corner of her “comfortable space” (i.e. my bed).

“Dogs are creatures of habit, and these types of transitions are hard for them,” Stern explained.

That’s why she recommended taking baby steps initially. (She noted that the techniques she’s offering are for the “average dog” and not those that suffer from separation anxiety, which is a panic disorder and requires a different approach.)

She suggested starting by leaving your dog alone in increments, even for just one or two minutes. It can be as simple as going to the bathroom or taking a shower. Unless of course, like me, you have a “water dog” whose favorite thing is to try and join you in the shower.

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

More Americans welcome pooches during the pandemic

Once you’ve mastered the bathroom break, Stern suggested then walking around the block alone or having the dog hear you getting in the car and driving around the block.

“All of these baby steps help your dog realize that you always come back,” she said. “Some dogs like to sit and look out the window and wait for you to come back. That’s OK. That’s the dog giving itself a job, and a lot of dogs really need a job.”

Bronte considers it her job to stand by the window, or in the garden, and protect me from all enemies — foreign and domesticated. These include squirrels, birds, other dogs and what she considers the greatest affront to all creatures great and small: people on skateboards. (I’m inclined to agree.)

Stern had a solution for that, too.

“An effective and simple hack that I use is to buy frosted window cling film that allows light in but prevents the dogs from seeing visual triggers that make them bark,” she said.

She also recommended playing music or white noise to help keep dogs calm.


Opinion Netflix’s new dog reality TV series ‘Canine Intervention’ is irresistibly heartfelt

Of course, all of this can be even more difficult for dogs adopted by people during the pandemic precisely because they knew they would be home all day. Most of them are now experiencing separation from their owners for the first time.

The family of 11-year-old Paxton Booth, an actor on Disney Channel’s “Coop and Cami Ask the World,” were worried about that dynamic when they adopted their now year-old rescue mix, Ripley, from Paw Works at the beginning of the pandemic.

Paxton said the family talked about what they would do when it came to returning to work and school before they adopted Ripley and decided to put the puppy in doggy day care right away.

“We stayed inside and didn’t socialize,” Paxton said of the human members of the family. “So that meant Ripley didn’t get introduced to many new people. It made her a little fearful of anyone new she meets now. Thankfully, her doggy day care was able to stay open, so she had plenty of socialization and playtime with other dogs.”


Opinion Don’t let the eviction crisis cost people their pets

To Bronte’s credit, she considers anyone — be it a lifelong friend, the neighbor who always stops by and gives her treats or a total stranger — an excellent companion. Let her play in the fountain 10 minutes from our house and buy her a Starbucks puppuccino and she won’t even ask to see your references.

Stern, who also hosts the podcast “Pooch Parenting,” said the Booths’ day care decision was an excellent one. And if you’re worried about how your dog is doing when home alone, Stern is all for using a video camera so you can check up on them.

“The average pet dog sleeps a lot during the day,” Stern said, “so if we can get our dogs comfortable enough so they can sleep, that’s something to strive towards.”

I take great pride in the fact that Bronte has a Ph.D. in sleeping (and, unfortunately, snoring).

Bronte considers it her job to stand by the window, or in the garden, and protect me from all enemies — foreign and domesticated.

When you do come home each day, Stern believes you should “say hello but not throw a party, because some dogs wait by the door and anticipate that party and that can cause some anxiety” for the dogs.

She also recommended a good walk before you head out to work.

“A walk around the block is not amazing exercise, but if you allow them time to sniff during that walk, they will experience a lot of mental satiation” due to the myriad olfactory neurons in their brain, she said. “It tends to help them be calmer.”

Thankfully there are myriad ways to ease the transition so both human and canine feel comfortable. And just as thankfully, I can simply throw my drool-filled pajamas in the washing machine.

Kelly Hartog is an award-winning journalist, editor and book coach living in Los Angeles.

It goes without saying that the loss of a pet comes as a hard blow to you and your family. But what about the non-human members of your family? It’s well-documented that animals are capable of experiencing grief and loss, so it should come as no surprise that the death of a pet has an impact on the remaining animals in your household. Keep reading to learn how you can help your grieving pets in the event that your family is faced with such a loss.

Grief in Dogs and Cats

It’s not known for certain whether dogs or cats have the capacity to understand the finality and significance of the death of a pet, and any evidence that they do is purely anecdotal, says PetPlace. Cats and dogs tend to notice when a companion is no longer showing up in their lives, and they often react to that absence in a way that makes it clear that they miss their friend. Even if your pets weren’t close and the surviving pet doesn’t appear to notice the loss of a pet, dogs and cats are extremely sensitive to the emotional states of their human guardians and may become sad or despondent because they’re sensing those emotions in their pet parents. Dogs can have a particularly rough time adjusting to a change in the family makeup because of their pack-oriented nature, says PetsBest. Dogs tend to see the family, including other pets, as a unit and come to understand their position and role in relation to the rest of the pack. When another pack member dies, this may leave your dog feeling uncertain about his role and how he fits in.

How to Recognize a Grieving PetHow to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

Individual dogs and cats react to loss in different ways. Just as with people, there is no “right” or “wrong” way for your pet to grieve. Some pets may not appear to notice the absence of the deceased, while some may appear to feel the loss quite heavily. In general, here are some signs that your pet might be struggling with grief:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Acting withdrawn or despondent
  • Whining or howling in dogs, or yowling and crying in cats
  • Changes in personality; your aloof cat suddenly wants lots of attention, or vice versa
  • Pacing or searching the house for the lost pet
  • Hiding from or avoiding other family members
  • Changes in grooming or bathroom habits, especially in cats

Your pet might also show signs of separation anxiety, such as crying and carrying on when you leave or, as is more common regarding cats, engaging in destructive behavior, such as scratching furniture or urinating outside the litter box while you’re gone.

Helping Your Grieving Pet

While it’s tempting to comfort your pets when they’re showing signs of hurting, it’s important that you don’t try to soothe them while they’re engaging in unwanted behaviors. Petting or speaking gently to your dog while he’s whining or pacing, for example, will only reinforce this behavior, causing it to continue well past the point that he knows why he’s doing it. As hard as it may be to do so, it’s best to ignore such behavior. Instead, choose times when your pets are being quiet and give them plenty of attention and reassurance.

Here are some other things you can do to help your grieving pet:

  • Stay positive: As hard as it is for you to cope with your own loss, talk to your remaining pets in a calm and upbeat voice as often as possible.
  • Engage in new activities: Giving your pets something new to learn or focus on may help distract them from the loss and the uncertainty surrounding it. Dogs, especially, benefit from learning something new that will give them confidence in their pack position.
  • Do more of what your pets already love to do. Getting to do something fun and enjoyable with you can go a long way toward helping your pet cope — and will help you feel better, too.
  • Talk to your veterinarian. If your pets show signs of separation anxiety or depression that don’t improve on their own, contact your vet.

The loss of a pet is a difficult time for your entire household. But remembering to provide comfort and support to your four-footed family members during this time can help aid the grieving process and promote healing for the whole family.

Contributor Bio

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.

A change of residence can make animals feel insecure. Here’s how to ease the transition.

by Amy Goyer, June 10, 2011 | Comments: 0

When my parents moved from their home of 28 years to an apartment in a continuing care retirement community, there was no question that their beloved dog, Jackson, would move with them. For older family members, bringing a pet along when moving can be the key to a successful transition. Research has shown that pets can reduce stress, improve health and lengthen our lives.

But moves can be stressful for our pets, too. They may feel unsure about their new environment, which can lead to behavior issues that were not a problem in the past. Some pets will absorb their caregivers’ emotions: if you feel anxious, they may be jumpy and extra-sensitive; if you feel scattered and chaotic, they may feel insecure. They may become focused on establishing their “territory” in their new home, or they may want to stay under the bed or in their crate and hide.

Jackson had a tough time adjusting to his new home: He developed separation anxiety and would bark continuously when he was left in the apartment alone. This caused problems with the new neighbors, which didn’t help my parents. We sought out guidance from a dog trainer, who showed us how to make Jackson feel more secure and happy in his new home. Using the advice below, Jackson went from a nuisance to a favorite in the senior community.

Here are some ways to help a pet transition to a new home:


  • Dr. Marty Becker answers your pet questions. Read
  • 7 ways to save on pet care. Read
  • Set up a trust fund for your pet. Read

Be consistent. Keep your routine schedule for feeding, walks, playtime, cuddling and bedtime. If a dog is used to using a doggy door, set one up in your new place. If your cat is accustomed to outdoor time, arrange for that — even if you have to use a leash initially for safety purposes and to keep him from running away.

Bring favorites. You may be tempted to get your pet new accoutrements, but this is not a good time to introduce new items. Instead, bring your pet’s favorite bed, crate, toys, food and water dishes, treats and other familiar items. Put them in similar places as they were in your previous home. Favorites will help your pet feel in control and at home more quickly.

Minimize anxiety. Think of ways to ease your pet’s transition. Some animals will feel best being near you no matter what you’re doing. Others will do better in a crate away from the moving madness. Or perhaps it’s better for your animal buddy to stay at a friend or family member’s home during the actual move; joining you once you’ve unpacked. The more secure they feel, the better they’ll weather the change.

Keep them safe. During the packing stage, the actual move and the transition in the new home, plan for your pet’s safety. Some animals will be upset and scared once the boxes and suitcases take over. They may hide or run away. Set aside a safe place where they can’t get lost or hurt. Make sure your pet has identification and your contact information, and that you have copies of veterinarian records. Learn about any aggressive animals in the neighborhood, or any structural risks in the home or yard.

Be patient. Allow your pets to take their time sniffing around their new digs. Let them explore — and if they decide to hide for a while, that’s OK as long as they know where the doggy door or litter box is. Allow them to come out when they are ready. Their behavior may change for awhile, including eating and “potty” habits, barking, pacing or protection behaviors. They need time to get used to their new home, just as you do.

Love ’em up. Give your pet the attention he is used to. A bit of extra loving will go a long way as they come to feel at home in their new surroundings. Remember that difficult behaviors are a result of their discomfort with the change and a sense of not feeling in control. Difficult behaviors don’t mean the pet is bad and can’t change. Get help from a professional trainer or veterinarian if your pet’s difficult behaviors persist, and remember all the unconditional love they give you.


VANCOUVER — With some people returning to school or offices in the coming weeks, family pets might have to readjust to being left home alone.

As COVID-19 spread, many schools, offices and businesses shuttered, leading to people spending more time at home.

Now, as B.C.’s economy begins to slowly reopen, Chirag Patel, an animal behaviour expert, shared some tips with CTV Morning Live Wednesday for how pet owners can help their pets adjust to the change.

Below is part of a four minute interview, which has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full video above.

Jason Pires: What are the signs of separation anxiety in pets?

Chirag Patel: There could be a number of different signs. It could be pre-departure, so it could be before the caregiver’s about to leave. The animal could start to play up, seem like they’re stressed, they could be yawning, licking their lips, they could go hide somewhere, they might go sit by a door, they might start to whine.

When the person’s actually left, the dog may just sit by a door the whole time, or they might be barking, whining, pooing, chewing things, trying to jump out of balcony windows, trying to chew doorways to get out if they’re really stressed. So the signs could be really varied.

Keri Adams: As people have been home, pets have really been used to people being around. So how can we adapt to a new routine to make this as comfortable as possible for our pets?

Patel: So the first thing is to remember it is very different for our pets. They’ve suddenly had everyone at home and now everyone’s leaving. So if the pet does start to show behaviours that the human might consider a problem, is it to be a little (understanding) as opposed to telling them off and saying the animal’s misbehaving because they’re not. It’s just a lot of change they have to deal with – image how much change we’ve had to deal with and how stressful it is for us.

So let’s start to put into our routine some mock departures. So if you have to go sit in your car for a little while or go for a walk or your exercise so the pet can start to be by themselves. While they’re at home, lots of nice things are left for them. There’s lots of goodies, there’s a treasure hunt, there could be toys with treats in them. We can start to do those kinds of things to prepare them.

Pires: What are some good toys to prevent boredom?

Patel: You can get lots of toys like Kong toys which are rubber toys and they’ve got holes in them so you can stuff treats inside. These can be like Sudoku puzzles or word searches for dogs. You can put treats in, you can put their dinner in, you can run the tap over their dinner and freeze it so now the dog has to sit there working for the food … we fill their daily timetable with lots of things we want them to do, that are desirable behaviours as opposed to things we don’t want them to do.

Adams: Pets obviously like to get extra treats, but do you have any other tricks that could prevent boredom in pets when they’re by themselves at home?

Patel: You can use scent, you can get a bit of dried ginger powder, you can use cinnamon, you can get non-toxic food smells … so your dog can use their sense of smell and be looking around, sniffing things because a large part of the dog’s frontal lobe is taken up by the olfaction system and if we can tire them out using their nose, that’s a great way to mentally stimulate a dog. Taking them for a good amount of walks before you leave them alone, making sure they’ve had the appropriate of physical exercise is really, really important.

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

Some pets will show destructive behaviour when stressed or experiencing separation anxiety. (Shutterstock)

Share this article

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

Every fall, parents are tasked with managing back-to-school transitions. Usually this means shopping for or gathering school supplies or seasonal clothes, registering for activities or helping children manage back-to-school excitement or worries. But with COVID-19, the start of this school year feels very different.

Our research shows that due to COVID-19, parents and children are experiencing greater levels of anxiety and stress. With contentious and sometimes shifting information about the process, these feelings of uncertainty may increase.

While levels of anxiety and stress may be high, parents play an influential role in helping children cope, encouraging a positive back-to-school transition and helping to reduce children’s anxiety and worries.

Have honest and open discussions

In psychology, we use the phrase, “what you resist, persists” to describe how avoiding important discussions can actually lead to more persistent feelings of anxiety in children.

It’s important to have honest, factual and open conversations with your child about COVID-19 and its implications for returning to school. Tailor the depth and breadth of conversations based on your child’s age and maturity level.

For example, with a younger child in grades 1 to 3, you could spend some time talking about what might look different this year. Their class size may be smaller and teachers and educators may be wearing masks. Extra-curricular activities or regular school activities (such as some forms of music) might be cancelled.

For older children, you could ask if there are specific things they are worried or concerned about, and talk these through with them.

You can help children and youth identify their role in staying safe — such as avoiding touching their face, washing their hands or using hand-sanitizer and keeping their distance from others. Use coping-focused language that emphasizes the active role that children, youth and adults are taking to make sure things go well (following instructions, engaging in good hygiene), rather than focusing on things that are out of their control (like if a student gets COVID-19).

How to help pets cope with the back‐to‐school transition

Parents can help children and youth identify their role in staying safe.

Name fears to tame fears

As child clinicians, we often encourage parents to use the “name-it-to-tame-it” strategy. First, parents can help their child identify their concerns by asking them what they’re worried about. Then, parents can help their child “name” the worry or concern by labelling it. For example, younger children might name their fear the Worry Monster. Simply labelling the emotion as anxiety can be helpful for older children and teenagers.

Naming the worry often helps tame the fear by helping children build understanding about what they’re feeling. It also gives parents and children a common emotion language that can be used in future discussions, and provides an opportunity for parents to provide emotional support and coping strategies. These strategies include deep breathing and using coping-focused language like: “I feel better when I talk about my worries.”

Children often want reassurance their fears won’t come true. It may be tempting for parents to say “Everything will be OK!” or “No one will get sick!” But such words can prevent children from facing their fears and developing problem-solving and coping skills. They can also prevent children from taking COVID-19 preventative measures (like social distancing) as they may perceive the risk to be low or non-existent.

Acknowledge and support your child in the discomfort that there are some things that may be out of our control, and that it’s best to focus on what we can control.

Listen, validate, help to problem-solve

When your child expresses (or demonstrates) they’re struggling, start by listening carefully to their concern. Put devices away, so you can provide undivided attention. Then, try validating your child’s emotion by making a caring statement that reflects what they just said, such as: “I can understand why you feel worried about returning to school, especially when there are so many changes happening because of COVID-19.” Identifying reasons why your child might be feeling worried or anxious will make them feel understood.

Help your child face their fears by promoting problem-solving. Together, identify a few possible solutions and then help them identify which solution seems best. You can discuss different options or role-play solutions to help your child build confidence. Encourage your child to try out the solution in real life and discuss whether or not it worked. If not, try picking a different solution to test!

Focus on things going well

It’s important to acknowledge children’s worries and anxieties, but parents should also motivate their children to focus on the things they might be looking forward to. Children are likely excited to see friends, peers or teachers in person. They may positively anticipate a daily school routine and take pride in their role as a student or in minimizing COVID-related risks.

Before school starts, you can ask, “What are you looking forward to on your first day of school?” or “What have you missed about school?” Once school starts, you can ask: “What was the best thing that happened today?”