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

Transitioning back to early childhood programs or school— or starting them for the first time—can create extra challenges during a pandemic. Learn what parents and teachers can do to help children make a successful transition to in-person learning and care.

Reopening means many new starts

Many early care and education programs stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide needed care. But for many families, the pandemic meant keeping their children at home. With more programs and schools opening up for in-person learning, this means more children will be away from home again after a long break. And many babies who were born just before or during the COVID-19 pandemic may have stayed home rather than starting an early care and education program 1 . For these children and their parents— including caregivers who have the role of parent—an early care and education program will be a brand new experience.

Transitions can be hard for children and families

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

Young children are often wary of strangers and want to stay close to their parents and other familiar and trusted caregivers. Until they are old enough to talk clearly about their feelings, it’s hard to explain to them that a new caregiver is going to protect them, which means it takes time for children to get used to new people. School-aged children who are sensitive or easily worried, or those who have developmental delays, may need extra time to adjust. It’s often easier for young children to make the transition if they have spent some time with their parents and the new person together. Parents also often worry about their child making the transition, and it’s easier for parents to keep calm and be reassuring if they know their child’s teacher and feel comfortable with them.

Transition in a time of physical distancing, masks, and extra stress is extra hard

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been very important to keep physical distance between people who don’t live together. Early care and education programs and schools have had to limit visitors and changed drop-off and pick-up procedures to limit contact; teachers and children older than age 2 years have had to wear masks. Facial expressions are used to help communicate feelings and provide reassurance, so being around masked faces can add to feelings of uncertainty. For children who return to in-person care, changes to the space and to routines might make everything look and feel different. Further, children may be aware that COVID-19 risk has to do with being around other people and may worry about getting sick. Children are generally flexible and can adapt, but strategies to protect children’s health may make transitions to new situations and new people harder. Parents may feel less comfortable with letting their child start an early care and education program because they can’t easily visit and may know less about the program and the teacher than they normally would.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress, fear, and worry for many families. Worries about sickness, finances, and isolation, coping with grief from loss, and having less outside help has made parenting more stressful. Many families report increased behavior problems in their children, including anxiety and acting out 2 . Schools and early care and education programs can help children and families by promoting social and emotional learning. Making the transition from home to school may be harder for children with developmental, behavioral, or emotional problems. Teachers, parents, and programs can help children by planning the transition, making strong connections, and establishing new routines. With the right support, children can adjust to their new program, make new friends, learn new things, and thrive.

What parents and teachers can do to support children’s transition

Skilled early care and education providers know how to help children adjust. But in a pandemic, and after long periods without being in care, it may be good to put a little extra support into the transitions. Here are some tips to help families with the transition.

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

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.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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. She was born in London and remains a loyal subject of Queen Elizabeth II.

(BPT) – As millions of U.S. employees anticipate a potential return to in-person work, some concerns are cropping up for pet parents and their furry family members. Many pet parents — including the over 2 million who have adopted dogs and cats from shelters just over the past year — are now considering how these changes may impact themselves and their pets, and how to cope with this possible transition.

A recent MetLife Pet Insurance survey [1] shows that an overwhelming 95% of working pet parents anticipate that the transition will cause a change in their pet’s health or routine, and 3 in 4 (74%) pet parents are concerned about how caring for their pet during this time may hurt their wallets. Working pet parents are also anticipating how their return to in-person work will impact their pets, including disrupting daily routines (26%), making them anxious or stressed (24%), causing them to act out (24%), and disrupting their eating routines (23%).

If you are one of the many working pet parents stressed about not being home as much to care for your beloved pets, here are three ways you can prep for the return to office — and make your pet’s days without you a little easier to cope with.

Start prepping your pet for a new routine

As working pet parents prepare pets for their extended absence from home each day — some of them for the first time ever — over a quarter (26%) are concerned that the return to in-person work will disrupt their pet’s daily routine. To help pets adjust, you should start establishing this new routine well before heading back into the office.

This can include getting your pet acquainted to new feeding, exercise and bathroom routines that better fit your work schedule. You can also start pet-proofing your home to prevent accidental injuries or damages to your home while you’re away — for example, investing in a crate, gate or pen can help keep your pet safe, while a pet motion detector or camera can help keep you apprised of any issues.

Find alternative options for pet care

If you feel that your time away from home may be jarring for your pet, you may want to also consider hiring a pet sitter, dog walker or trying a daycare option. In fact, MetLife Pet Insurance’s study has found that 38% of pet parents plan to invest in some kind of caretaker for their pet during this time. Of course, hiring additional care for your pet can sometimes be costly, so make sure that these options fit within your budget. If not, you can think about making accommodations with your employer (i.e., flex hours or remote work options) that may allow you to better care for your furry friend.

Talk to your employer about benefits

Paying for potential vet bills and other pet care costs associated with the return-to-office may be yet one more worry in the back of your mind. Because this change could result in unexpected hazards or an illness that may lead to a visit to the vet, it’s worth asking your employer if they offer pet-related benefits.

For example, MetLife’s pet insurance offering can help you cover unplanned vet expenses for covered accidents and illnesses. When a covered accident or illness occurs, you can submit a claim for reimbursement of the vet bill. In addition to insurance offerings, you can also check with your employer about other pet-related benefits, which may include stipends or reimbursements for expenses (e.g., toys, snacks, and grooming) or adoption fees.

These are just a few examples of how you can help support your furry family member and alleviate some of the stress and worry you may be feeling about this transition. To learn more about how to navigate a potential return-to-office, check out MetLife’s return-to-office guide for pet parents.

[1] Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

Psychiatrist offers tips on how to help make the transition from summer to school a little easier

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

Change can be difficult for children and teens going back to school or first-time students starting kindergarten. Serafin Lalas, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist for Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center, provides some strategies parents can use to deal with back-to-school worries:

MAKE A GAME PLAN WITH TEACHERS AND PARENTS.

School refusal behavior refers to school phobia and separation anxiety. It’s helpful for parents of children with these issues to make a game plan with teachers before school begins. Explain the situation to your child’s teachers, and make sure they know you won’t pick your child up from school unless it’s necessary.

DO A WALK-THROUGH BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS.

For some kids, it can be beneficial to walk through the sequence of the day to decrease anxiety caused by the unknown. This will reassure many students, and the schedule can become a routine for them.

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TALK TO THE CHILD ABOUT THEIR ANXIETIES.

Some students’ anxiety comes from a concern that something might happen to their parents while they’re separated. Parents can reassure and remind them that both the parents and the student will be okay.

For fears that center around academic concerns, addressing children’s worries and making sure they feel they have the support they need can help them be confident in going back to school.

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Some students become anxious when changing schools and entering a new environment. In this case, it can be beneficial to take the student on a tour of the school and work with the teacher to connect them with a potential classmate to reduce anxiety on their first day.

CONSIDER COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY.

Also called CBT, this therapy helps people become aware of incorrect or negative thinking so you can view anxious situations more clearly and respond in a healthy way. It can help students understand how their thoughts affect their behavior and in turn, how it affects their mood.

Dispelling misconceptions in their minds is important to make sure they’re comfortable.
Pay attention to your own behavior as well. The more confidence and comfort you can model, the more your child will understand there is no reason to be afraid. Be supportive yet firm.

SET APPROPRIATE LIMITS AND REINFORCE THEM.

Let your child know that you are going to stick to the game plan. If they do stay at home, don’t give them the positive reinforcements they’re craving, like fun activities or access to technology.

If your child — or teen — continues having trouble with back-to-school anxiety for more than two weeks into the new school year, reach out to someone who can help them process these feelings. Look for a behavioral health provider in your area who can help. If your child or teen is facing challenges that may cause them to act out, such as anxiety, learn more about Loma Linda University Health’s behavioral health services by visiting out youth behavioral health page. You can also call 877-558-6248.

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

Most kids have mixed emotions about the first day of school. It’s exciting to start a new year, but fear of the unknown – teachers, classmates, routines – leaves many kids grappling with anxiety. Here are five ways to help your little one cope when nerves are keeping them up at night:

  • Start back-to-school routines early. Bump up bedtimes and wake times so she is on the school schedule before the first day.
  • Set her up for success. Find a friend in her class or set up a class playdate before the first day to help soften the transition.
  • Do a dry run. Visit the school before the first day to scope out her classroom, lunchroom, playground, etc., so she knows how to get around.
  • Talk about your first day. Sharing your own childhood fears about school can help validate her concerns. Be sure to mention how you managed your nervousness and learned to love going to school.
  • Ask for reinforcements. Key in your provider to her anxiety so they can talk about ways to manage her feelings.

Having first-day-of-school anxiety is totally normal for kids, but some have it worse than others. A solid plan and good communication can help ease your little one into a great year!

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