Your children may be excited to return to school after a long summer – or even a year of online classes. However, the new school year can come with new challenges. As a caring adult, parent or guardian, it can be difficult to know how to support children with this stressful and overwhelming transition. In a typical year, your children may face a new environment, new classmates and teachers, perhaps even a new routine altogether. These changes can be a lot to handle, which is why it’s important that adults who live or work with youth help them have a smooth transition back to school.
This year may be particularly stressful, as accommodations for COVID-19 have had a major impact on youth mental health and may still affect the schedule, learning environment, and activities of schools. According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, parents/guardians and their children have experienced worsening mental health since the start of the pandemic. Many children are not seeing their friends or family on a regular basis, are limited in the availability of extracurricular activities, or aren’t spending as much time outside. They also may not know how to communicate their feelings about these major disruptions to their lives.
With information and resources from the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum, you can help them communicate their feelings and cope with stress, encourage open and honest conversation, and support them to get the help they may need throughout the school year.
Use these tips from the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum to support your children as they go back to school:
Check in. Whether you’re having a conversation at dinner or talking to them while driving in the car, ask about how they are feeling. Encourage open and honest conversation and remind them that it is okay to ask for help.
Talk about COVID-19. Your children may have questions about the pandemic. Encourage them to ask anything and help them feel heard. Honest answers and reassurance can help them feel calm about the situation.
Establish a routine. Your children might be going back to school in person full time, staying in a virtual setting, or trying a hybrid of the two. With any of these scenarios, there will be a new schedule. Help them establish a routine through weekly planning check-ins that take into account your morning and nighttime routine, homework, chores and time to relax. Knowing what they can expect will alleviate some stress for young people.
Collaborate to find solutions. Sometimes, a young person who seems happy and relaxed at home acts differently outside the home. Ask your child’s teachers about how they are doing in the classroom and if additional support is needed. It is important to identify these challenges so you can offer support and facilitate appropriate help.
Model healthy habits. The way you behave during challenging times models the behaviors that you want to show and teach your child. If you cope with stress in a healthy way, your child will learn to do the same. Things like exercising regularly, eating healthy and practicing relaxation techniques can help you take care of your mental health and set a positive example for your children. Check out this blog for more ways to practice self-care as a family.
As we transition into a new school year that may look a little bit different than last year, knowing how to recognize your children’s needs, talk to, and support them is vital. Check out our other blog posts for more tips on how to support your children when they need it most:
You can also find a Youth Mental Health First Aid course near you. Youth Mental Health First Aid gives adults who live or work with youth the skills they need to identify, understand and respond to children and adolescents (ages 6-18) who may be developing a mental health or substance use challenge and help them connect to appropriate care.
With information and skills provided by Mental Health First Aid, we can all #BeTheDifference for our children this fall.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care – HaPi Guide. Back to School: Child Mental Health and New Routines. https://www.harvardpilgrim.org/hapiguide/back-to-school-the-importance-of-mental-health-when-establishing-new-routines/.
Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA: For Adults Assisting Children and Youth. Washington, D.C.: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C., & Garfield, R. (2021, April 14). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. KFF. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/.