Back to School: Supporting Youth (and Parents too!)
With the coronavirus still present in our lives, “back to school” season is going to look very different. Changes in the daily workings of a school day that are meant to keep students safe may feel overwhelming for children, and new rules that need to be followed may cause stress for teenagers. Additionally, these emotions can feel amplified if the child has a pre-existing mental health issue like anxiety. During these unstable times it is important to understand what our children might be feeling and how we can help them cope with the stress they are experiencing. We have put together information to help you better understand your child’s feelings and how you can help them, but also how you can help yourself; you need to care for yourself if you want to effectively care for someone else.
What kids might be experiencing
Stress: With the complete upheaval of the way their lives used to be, it is normal for your child to feel stress going back to school.
Uncertainty: All the rule changes might confuse children, and in turn make them feel insecure. When their routine changes to something they are not used to, it might unbalance them, in turn making them feel uncertain about the things around them.
Sadness: Some children might be put in a different class than their friends and cause them to feel lonely, or, especially for younger children, sad because they want to give their teacher a hug but are told they have to step away because of social distancing.
Fear: Viruses are terrifying, and children might be scared of contracting the virus.
Frustration: Your child may feel frustrated because they wish for everything to go back to the way it used to be before the pandemic.
What parents can do for their kids
Be supportive: One of the most important things you can do for your child is let them know that you are there for them. By making it clear that you are supporting them during this stressful time, they will know that they are not alone. If they ask for your help, be there for them. By having someone they can rely on, your child will feel less overwhelmed.
Validate your child’s feelings: Usually, when we are feeling anxious, we like to confront our feelings straight on and try to fix the stress we are experiencing. Javeed Sukhera, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Western University, suggests that this approach during a pandemic might not be the best course of action. He explains that trying to fix our feelings can cause more stress and actually make things worse. Instead, he encourages families to use what he calls ‘acceptance-based strategies’, which consists of validating the feelings the child is experiencing and encouraging them to accept them. By doing this, Sukhera suggests that the individual will feel that their emotions are normal and they won’t fall into self-blame and self-criticism. He further explains that accepting our emotions as they are helps build resiliency.
Listen to their concerns: Sometimes saying nothing is exactly what is needed. Providing a listening ear shows your child that you are there to listen to their concerns and thoughts.
Keep the home environment consistent: Things outside the home have changed drastically, so if you keep a consistent environment at home it provides your child with stability that they might not feel they have at school. Make sure the home is clean and organized. Keep a dinnertime and bedtime routine that is predictable. These new routines might not always turn out like you plan, but if you try to maintain them as much as possible it can make your children feel safe.
What parents can do for themselves
Accept that things are not perfect: No matter how much we want to be in control, there will always be something that does not fit with the perfect situation or scenario we try to create. It is impossible to make things perfect, so letting go of the idea of perfection will help you accept that there are things out of your control and focus on what is actually in your control.
Take care of yourself: You cannot take care of others if you do not take care of yourself. If you feel stress, take a break. Need a change of scenery from being in the house or work? Take a walk around the block. If you are not well, you will be less able to care for your children.
Trust in your abilities: This is especially important when it comes to resiliency during stressful times like these. Carolyn FitzGerald, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, explains the importance of self-efficacy, which is how much we believe in our abilities. Someone with high self-efficacy has a high confidence in their abilities and having this can help an individual cope with stressful situations. Imitating this behaviour can also help your children, so it is a benefit for both.
Reach out to others: If you are feeling overwhelmed or you need help do not be afraid to reach out to family, friends, or community organizations. You are not alone during this pandemic.
– Gabrielle Lesage
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