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 can be a transitional period at best, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, children, parents and teachers are faced with an added layer of stress and anxiety with the anticipation of September. Since the onset of the pandemic, 70% of school-aged children and 66% of pre-school aged children have experienced a deterioration in their mental health and have shown mental health struggles.
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.
“A lot of people are finding this back-to-school season exceptionally challenging. You are not alone. Parents, teachers, and children are carrying a heavy emotional load right now. This back-to-school season is shaping up to be a year like no other,” explains Krista Sibbilin, Director of Children’s Services at CMHA WW. “While there is no answer for how September will unfold, recognize the opportunity you are being given at this moment. 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 during COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are CMHA WW’s five recommendations for parents and teachers to help your children and youth excel in the upcoming in-person or virtual school year:
- Encourage social interaction with friends and peers either virtually or in person safely. If possible, connect with the school to learn of the child’s teacher and connect prior to the first day.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- When it comes to returning to in-person learning, your child or teen might have anxiety, worries, or fears associated with COVID-19. Summer is a great opportunity to begin practicing good habits such as mask wearing and handwashing. It can be helpful to understand the policies and procedures your child’s school has in place to help keep everyone safe – and share that information with them ahead of time. Emphasize the active role we all can take to ensure the school environment is as safe as possible, rather than focusing on factors that are not in our control.
During a period of uncertainty, 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 who have been ill and feeling worn out after navigating virtual education in the spring and having limited activities and child care over 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.
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.