Support your children’s mental health as they return to school

Mental health. Parents can help their children navigate their feelings as school reopens.

09 Sep 2020 | 03:37

Reprinted with permission from UNICEF

The coronavirus outbreak has caused major disruptions to daily life, and children are feeling these changes deeply. While the return to school will be exciting for many students, others will feel anxious or frightened. Here are tips to help your children navigate some of the complicated emotions they may be facing.

Have an open conversation about what is worrying him and let him know that it’s natural to feel anxious. Be honest. For example, you could go through some of the changes they may expect at school, such as needing to wear masks. Children may also find it difficult being physically distanced from friends and teachers. Encourage them to think about other ways to bond and stay connected.

Reassure children about safety measures in place to keep students and teachers healthy. Remind them they can help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and water.

Remind children about the positives –- that they will be able to see their friends and teachers, if they are returning to the classroom, and continue to learn new things.

One of the best ways to keep children safe from COVID-19 and other diseases is to encourage regular handwashing. It doesn’t need to be a scary conversation. Sing along with their favorite song or dance together to make learning fun. Teach them that, even though germs are invisible, they could still be there. When children understand why they need to wash their hands, they’re likely to continue doing so.

If your child’s school start gradually, your child may be anxious about being separated from his friends. Continue to reassure your child that schools will open again for everyone once it’s safe. When the official reopening of schools is announced, help him get ready to return to school by sharing information on when and how this will happen.

Letting your kids know ahead of time that schools may need to close again will help them be prepared for the adjustments ahead. Continue to remind them that learning can happen anywhere –- at school and at home –- and that they can also keep in touch with friends online in the meantime.

Safe and monitored use of online games, social media, and video chats can provide great opportunities for children to connect with friends and relatives while at home. Encourage your children to share their views and support those in need during this crisis.

Be calm and proactive in your conversations with children. Check in to see how they are doing. Their emotions will change regularly. Show them that’s okay.

Caregivers can engage children in creative activities, such as playing and drawing, to help them express any negative feelings they may be experiencing in a safe and supportive environment. This helps children find positive ways to express difficult feelings, such as anger, fear ,or sadness.

As children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives — including parents and teachers — it is important that adults manage their own emotions and remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, speak kindly, and reassure them.

Keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety. It’s important to demonstrate that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. When in doubt, empathy and support are the way to go.

Incidents of stigmatization and bullying may increase when children return to school due to some of the misinformation around COVID-19. If they have been called names or bullied at school, they should be encouraged to tell a trusted adult.

The more you talk to your children about bullying, the more comfortable they will be telling you if they see or experience it. Ask about their time at school and their activities online, and also about their feelings. Some children may not express their emotions verbally, so look out for any anxious or aggressive behavior that may indicate something is wrong.

Engage your children in open and honest conversations about how to stay safe online. Have an honest dialogue with your children about who they communicate with and how. Make sure they understand the value of kind and supportive interactions, and that mean, discriminatory, or inappropriate contact is never acceptable. If you notice your child becoming withdrawn or upset, or using their device more or less than usual, it could be a sign that they are being bullied online.

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with your child’s school’s safeguarding and bullying policies, as well as the appropriate referral mechanisms and helplines available.