Back-to-school nerves at the end of summer are expected every year. However, parents and children alike are experiencing a unique set of anxieties about the transition in 2020. “With contentious and sometimes shifting information about the process, these feelings of uncertainty may increase.” (Cooke & Racine & Madigan, 2020) Parents want to be a steady figure for their child(ren) during COVID-19, allowing their family to balance normalcy throughout an inherently stressful period. As September approaches, families are lost for how to best support their children.
The Alberta Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has provided some guidance with actions and conversations parents can engage in to help make children’s transitions a little easier. “By planning ahead, you can help your child make the adjustment into their school routine and ease them into any changes that it may bring.” (Morneau Shepell, n.d.)
Actions to take
Design a personalized daily routine
A personalized routine, designed with your child, for your child, will bring a sense of control, stability and normalcy to out of the ordinary activities COIVD-19 has imposed. “Usually, things we can control makes us feel safe because they are predictable, while things that fall out of our control can lead to feelings of anxiety because they are unpredictable.” (Cooke & Racine & Madigan, 2020) Help kids feel in control by mapping out their day, including their new COVID-19 activities like putting on their mask, washing their hands and monitoring their health. Don’t forget to include free time, play time and family time for your child to look forward to every day.
It may be easier said than done to model healthy coping skills during a time of high stress, however, “research suggests that children notice how their parents feel and pick up on subtle cues, such as scared facial expressions or cautious tones of voice.” (Cooke & Racine & Madigan, 2020) There are a number of calming activities you and your child can practice together:
- Meditation, which can be guided by these apps for children
- Practice simple mindfulness activities like saying three things you see, feel and hear
- Engage in a gratitude practice and foster gratitude in your child
Encourage social interactions
Even without face-to-face connection, children can remain social. Although it may look different from previous school years, social interaction is still important for children to stay mentally healthy. Encourage FaceTime or video calls with friends and brainstorm with your child creative ways to socialize while maintaining physical distancing.
Normalize wearing a mask
Eventually, children may have the automatic impulse to put on their mask as they leave for school. As a parent, you want the process to get there to be as unintimidating as possible. “Try giving your child some of the newer child-friendly designs to choose from or get them to help decorate a pre-made mask. Are you making a mask? Let your child choose the material.” (Cheo, 2020) If your child feels a sense of excitement or pride about their mask, wearing it won’t feel so foreign and scary.
Conversation to have
Listen to and accept your child’s feelings
Acknowledge the difficulties of a new school year and all the pressures that come with it. COVID-19 is an additional element all children returning to school must contend with. “Validate and accept your child’s feelings about the situation. You might say: ‘I can see why you might be feeling (insert your child’s feelings here) about this.’ Try to listen without interrupting. Say: ‘Tell me more…’ “(Cheo, 2020)
Keep asking questions and stay open
Check-in with your child every day, and realize they may not want to share their concerns or worries instantly. As long as your child knows you are always available, they will open up when ready. “Grab opportunities to discuss important issues, but also ask simple questions like, ‘How was your day?’ Do everything you can to maintain a strong bond and keep the lines of communication open so they feel that they can openly and honestly discuss things with you.” (Morneau Shepell, n.d.)
Focus on your child’s interests at school
Celebrate your child’s academic successes and motivate them to push through mental roadblocks. “Encourage them by giving specific, concrete praise such as ‘I really like your detail in this project,’ rather than a general comment of ‘You’re such a great student.’ This indicates to your child that you have made an effort and noticed their efforts.” (Morneau Shepell, n.d.)
Connect your child to external supports
Your child may benefit from talking about their anxieties and stress through external resources such as therapy provided by a counsellor or a peer support group. If you would like to learn more about support services near you, visit ementalhealth.ca.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health distress during this time, please call 211 (Alberta only) or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.
Cooke, Jessica & Racine, Nicole & Madigan, Sheri. (2020, August 21). How to help your child cope with the transition back to school during COVID-19. UCalgaryNews. [Article]. Retrieved August, 2020, from: https://www.ucalgary.ca/news/how-help-your-child-cope-transition-back-school-during-covid-19-0
Morneau Shepell. (n.d.). Helping your kids adjust to going back to school after lockdown. [Webpage]. Retrieved August, 2020, from: https://www.morneaushepell.com/ca-en/helping-your-kids-adjust-going-back-school-after-lockdown
Cheo. (2020, August). Back to school during covid-19: tips for parents and caregivers. [PDF]. Retrieved August, 2020, from: https://www.cheo.on.ca/en/resources-and-support/resources/P6225E.pdf