Back To School: Mental Health Tips During COVID

Back To School: Mental Health Tips During COVID

Helping Students Return to School After COVID

During this hectic time of the pandemic, COVID-19 cases have decreased in many areas, even though fears about illness still linger. Many schools are now offering the option of in-person learning; as a result, many kids are returning to the classroom after months of e-learning from home. This significant change may be a blessing for parents or children who are eager to return to the classroom, but it also could be a cause of anxiety for some. Not only are these changes affecting kids returning to the classroom, but they also have an impact on the mental health of children who are continuing virtual learning from home. Thankfully, there are options to help. Below are some mental health tips for helping students return to school after COVID.

Helping Students Return To School After COVID:

  1. Communicate:  Change can be good, but it can also stir up fears of what’s next. The first step in making peace with change is acknowledging it. Talk to your kids about how they are feeling about returning to in-person school. Having open, age-appropriate conversations with your children will help them know they are protected and not alone.
  2. Mask etiquette: Remind your children of the importance of proper mask-wearing. Children, especially younger ones, may have difficulties keeping their masks on for long periods. Ensure your child feels comfortable wearing a mask before returning to school by practicing at home. If you find your child is anxious about wearing a mask, it might be beneficial to teach your child breathing techniques to help.
  3. Encourage proper hygiene: Encourage frequent hand washing and sanitization. Remind your children of the importance of social distancing and germ prevention.
  4. Address social changes: The pandemic has forced social distancing, and many of us have not had face-to-face socialization outside of our immediate family since its start. While most children will bounce right back into face-to-face socialization, it might be helpful for them to do so with a parent present before returning to in-person school. Socially anxious children are especially prone to difficulties. You can help mitigate your child’s anxieties by role-playing situations your child may encounter on their first days back, such as talking to a peer or teacher.
  5. Get back on schedule: Changing to in-person learning from virtual is quite the schedule adjustment. This is especially true for students who haven’t had to wake up for regular early morning school hours since before the start of the pandemic. Help your child adjust to classroom routines by getting back on a regular schedule. Setting recurring morning alarms a few days before starting in-person schooling can help kids get back on schedule.
  6. Address fears about COVID-19 risks at school: It’s natural for kids to have some concerns about exposure to COVID-19 when returning to in-person learning. Remind your kids that scientists, health experts, parents, teachers, and other leaders are doing everything they can to ensure their health and safety.
  7. Encourage daily self-care: Advocate and model adaptive self-care for your children. Self-care looks different for everyone and may include yoga, meditation, coloring, or even a quick walk around the park. Be creative and have fun!  
  8. Stay positive: Your children look up to you as their guide and model, and staying positive can undoubtedly help them feel more at ease with the transition back into in-person learning. Talking to your children about the positives of returning to in-person schooling can help. Have them list what they are most excited about for returning to in-person school and remind them to focus on them, as needed.

Tips for parents of kids who are continuing virtual learning from home:

  1. Provide reassurance that the situation is not permanent: One way to help alleviate sadness or worry is to reassure your kids that the current situation is not permanent. We will not stay in a state of pandemic forever, and they will eventually be able to return to school at some point in the future. 
  2. Educate your child about your reasons for continuing virtual learning: Try explaining to them the reasons why you are sticking to e-learning. For example, some children may be at higher risk for COVID-19 complications due to a health condition, or perhaps the child lives with parents who have COPD or other chronic conditions and are at high risk. While this may be a difficult conversation to navigate, helping your kids understand the reasoning as to why they are not returning to the classroom at present may help them. 
  3. Brainstorm ways to address their sadness: Your kids may feel left out when they see their peers returning to the classroom and realize that those kids can see each other all the time. This may be one of the most challenging things for your kids to adjust to if they are not returning to in-class learning like their peers. Talk with other parents who are continuing with virtual learning about what helps their kids. 
  4. Encourage your kids to stay in touch with their peers: You can encourage your kids to keep in touch with their friends and classmates through texting, messaging on social media, and via in-person, social distanced meetups. This could involve going for a walk with a friend, or having their friend over to your home, depending on your situation or comfort level with having guests over. 
  5. Check-in with them about their mental health: It never hurts to check-in and have a heart-to-heart with your kids. Start by asking: “How are you doing?” It’s as simple as that. While some kids may clam up when asked that question, it is essential that you ask. Your child could be experiencing depression or anxiety that could go unnoticed if no one takes the time to check in with them.

Here are some signs that your child may benefit from therapy for mental health

  • Feeling constantly on edge 
  • Withdrawing from social situations 
  • Isolating themselves
  • Mood swings 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Nervousness
  • Separation anxiety
  • Jitteriness 
  • Tearfulness
  • Hopelessness  
  • Substance abuse 
  • School refusal

You are not alone in helping your students’ return to school after COVID. If you notice that your child has some of the above symptoms, it may be a great time to start therapy. Counseling can be beneficial when it comes to adjusting to school changes and the state of the pandemic. Washington Psychological Wellness, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, offers both child and adolescent therapy, which could greatly help your child adjust to changes related to in-person schooling as well as virtual learning. 

For more information, visit: http://www.washington-psychwellness.com/

Sources: 

https://www.acesconnection.com/blog/dealing-with-mask-induced-anxiety

https://www.jdch.com/blog/2020/08/5-ways-to-cope-with-back-to-school-anxiety-during-covid-19

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-help-kids-manage-anxiety-as-schools-reopen-11615305471