Returning to school after the summer is often an experience filled with both feelings of excitement and anxiety. These days children across the globe return to school—whether in person, remotely, or some combination of the two. And while there is certainly reason to be excited—without usual summer gatherings and events, millions of children have been starved for social interaction—there is still plenty to be anxious about.
Whether it’s dread over the risk of contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus, or feeling unsettled about new methods of learning that require some getting used to, it is highly important to support your child’s mental health during this time.
How does attending school during a pandemic affect a child’s mental health?
For several months, experts have reported increases in anxiety among youth. Stories about whether schools were prepared to handle reopening safely have dominated the news cycle all summer, so it is no surprise that students are asking questions like these: Will I get sick at school? Will my teacher be able to recover if she gets sick? Will I still be able to play sports and attend regular school functions? Will things ever be normal again?
All of these uncertainties can flood a young person’s mind with worry. For some, even just seeing masks everywhere can cause feelings of anxiety. You can help by providing comfort and a sense of normalcy at home. There are many things you can do to help your child understand how to navigate new circumstances at school, but the place you have the most influence is at home. Focus on making your home calm and low-stress as much as you can.
One of the most helpful things you can do to positively influence your child’s mental health is to work at managing your own anxiety, and/or your partner’s. Children take a lot of their emotional cues from us.
Here are some ways you can help spur your child along toward better mental health during the 2020-2021 school year:
- Plan lots of outdoor family time so they get plenty of fresh air.
- Have an ongoing project to work on as a family, like a puzzle or a family photo book.
- Model distancing and mask wearing at home so it doesn’t feel abnormal at school.
- Practice the anti-corona hygiene rules at home.
- Set healthy limits on news and media.
- Teach your child to focus on empathy rather than fear.
- Encourage your child to talk about the things they are struggling with.
- Facilitate good sleep habits.
- Limit screen time, including your own.
- Teach mindfulness techniques such as controlled breathing.
- Share positive stories.
- Focus on the things you can do, not the things you can’t.
- Encourage regular exercise.
- Invest in their hobbies.
- Arrange safe hangouts for their friends.
- Stock less junk food.
- Curb your social media use and lead by example.
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