The Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHA WW) has recommendations to keep mental health top of mind while preparing for the quickly approaching school year
The start of the school year is a transitional period, leaving behind summer days for the more structured school days. Big transitions start in September, this could mean beginning kindergarten, high school, university/college, a new school and/or perhaps returning to in person learning for the first time in many months.
“A lot of people find the back-to-school season challenging. You are not alone. Parents, teachers, and children are carrying a heavy emotional load right now.” explains Krista Sibbilin, Director of Children’s Services at CMHA WW. “Whether you are a parent, teacher, or student, help each other navigate through emotions by listening, validating and helping to problem-solve.”
The good news is, there are several ways you can support your children, youth and yourself as a parent or teacher while going back to school.
Here are CMHA WW’s five recommendations for parents and teachers to help your children and youth excel in the upcoming school year:
1) Take some time to think through what the return to school might look like for your child and talk about what to expect. Children may feel nervous about returning to school for any number of reasons. It is important to allow space for them to express their concerns, and also to help them to remember the parts of school that they enjoy and are looking forward to the most.
2) Make sure young children feel comfortable with the functional things – putting on and taking off shoes and coat, managing their lunchbag – practice playfully by pretending to go to school. For older children, look through the school or board website together, or review information sent home, to learn more. Reassure your child that there will be many caring adults at school to help them to navigate their new school. If possible, connect with the school to learn of the child’s teacher and connect prior to the first day. Consider taking younger children to play at the school playground to become re-acquainted with the space, and walk the route to school or the bus. It may be helpful for youth to visit their school as well.
3) Normalize the topic that summer is coming to an end and that school will be restarting. This could be introduced through a countdown to the first day of school on a family calendar and/or gradually getting back into school year structure and routines including meal and snack times similar to the school’s schedule. For all kids: during the last week before school starts firm up what the morning routine looks like and practice it.
4) Set a bedtime (and/or wake up time), moving it closer to what it should be for the school year. Setting a screen curfew (a “downtime” after which point there are no screens) is also beneficial.
It is crucial to be aware of stressors, as a parent or teacher, that may impact your children or youth returning to school. These can include loss of work or changes to work arrangements, supporting and worrying about loved ones and feeling worn out after the summer.
With September quickly approaching, being aware of the impact of stressors can help keep them in control and prevent passing stress onto others. It’s okay to feel uncertain and worried, however, as much as possible, try to model calm behaviour and express a confident attitude about returning to school using positive messages — just as we encourage our children and youth to do.
As everyone transitions back to school, be aware that shifts in mental health are displayed through outbursts or excessive mood swings, worry leading to stomach and body aches, persistent nightmares and lack of sleep, an avoidance of formerly enjoyable activities, becoming unusually quiet or preoccupied, a change in appetite and a significant change in behaviour that is not readily explained.
CMHA WW offers mental health resources and webinars through our website to support your mental health – visit www.cmhaww.ca/events for more information. If you are in crisis or need support for you or a loved one, please call our Here 24/7 crisis line at 1-844-437-3247 (Here 247).
For mental health support for children 0-6, you can call Here4Kids at 1-844-4KIDS-11 (454-3711). For children 6-18 years old please call HERE 24/7 at 1-844-437-3247 (HERE 247) and ask to book a single session appointment.