Supporting Your Children's Mental Health As They Return To School
The beginning of a new school year is always stressful. However, returning to school following a disaster or emergency will only heighten your children’s fears, worries, and anxieties. This is particularly true as your children return to school during the coronavirus pandemic. But, you can help your children’s mental health and support them by using the following six techniques.
1. Stay calm.
As a parent, it’s understandable that you’re just as, if not more, nervous about the upcoming school year. But, try to remain as calm as possible. They can pick-up on your anxiety, which only makes matters worse.
“A big part of treatment for children with anxiety,” explains Dr. Laura Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist, “is actually teaching parents stress tolerance. It’s a simultaneous process—it’s both directing the parent’s anxiety, and then how they also support and scaffold the child’s development of stress tolerance.”
So, if you want to help your children, you first need to take care of yourself first. Address your own needs and learn stress management techniques so that they can model your behavior.
2. Listen to their concerns and reassure them.
Next, have an open conversation with your children on what their concerns are.
“Children may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school, especially if they have been learning at home for months. Be honest – for example you could go through some of the changes they may expect at school, such as needing to wear forms of protective clothing like masks. Children may also find it difficult being physically distanced from friends and teachers while at school – you could encourage them to think about other ways to bond and stay connected.
Reassure children about safety measures in place to keep students and teachers healthy and remind children that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their elbow.”
You should also discuss social distancing with them and what your family, school, and community are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
3. Get back to a routine.
A simple way to establish some sort of normalcy is to have a consistent routine. Even if your children won’t be attending school daily, make sure that they keep the same sleep-wake cycle, eat meals at the same time, and keep the same schedules for play, chores, and schoolwork.
When they have a routine, it will help them keep their “body clocks,” manages expectations, establishes healthy habits, and offers stability during times of change or stress.
4. Guide them in coping techniques.
Show them some basic calming techniques, like deep breathing, that they can use to easily and quickly reduce their anxiety. Before they go back to school, do breathing exercises with them in the comfort of your home so that they know how to use this technique to cope.
5. Help them focus on the positive.
Give them some reasons to look forward to the new school year. It could be connecting with friends that they haven’t seen in months, taking new classes, or even just getting out of the house.
Until then, keep the positive vibes going by spending time outside, helping the community, shopping for school supplies, or playing games together as a family. You should also limit their time spent watching the news or on social media since consuming too much information regarding COVID-19 will make them anxious.
6. Check-in with them.
Once the school year begins, frequently check-in with them to see how they’re doing. For younger children, you may want to use activities like games and drawing to help them express their feelings.
And, most importantly, pay attention to warning signs like behavior regression, sleep disturbances, withdrawing from activities they normally enjoy, irritability, poor concentration, delinquent behavior, or physical symptoms like headaches or upset stomachs.
These might be signs that your child needs to see a therapist.