As kids prepare to head back to school this fall, either virtually or in person, they most likely have a lot of questions on their mind, said Susan Voorhees, a Topeka-based psychologist.

COVID-19 has upset many aspects of children’s lives, from school moving online in the spring to spending most of their summer at home.

Talking with kids and helping them identify how they may be feeling will be important as families continue to navigate the pandemic, Voorhees said Wednesday during a news conference.

Voorhees, who specializes in the needs of children affected by trauma, sat down with Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman to discuss how to guide children through situations that cause anxiety.

Anxiety among everyone is increasing, Voorhees said, and kids are unsure of what school will look like, if their friends will be present and if their parents will go back to work.

"We know that anxiety is like the monster under the bed," Voorhees said. "It hides in the dark, it hides in the areas where we don’t talk about things, where we just let our minds go and wander and imagine, laying in bed at night worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow or what we heard on the news tonight. Anxiety can grow and grow.

"The best thing for little kids and big kids — teenagers — is talk to them about what’s going on and give them a name for what they are feeling. It’s a legitimate feeling and it’s OK to be anxious."

Voorhees said it has been interesting for her to observe how kids have reached their own level of understanding about COVID-19 and the need for change in their lives.

"They may not like it, I’m not saying that they are going to be all happy about it, but they do come to understand things are different than they used to be and I think the kids that are doing the best are the ones where they can have an active conversation about what is different this time," she said.

Kids aren’t the only ones who may be currently experiencing high levels of anxiety, Voorhees said. Parents may be dealing with their own, as well.

Voorhees advised that parents who are anxious should ask themselves what they are anxious about and if it is anything over which they have control.

Small moments in which parents can have time to themselves, such as taking a walk around the block, can be beneficial in easing anxiety, Voorhees said.