Back to School Tips from AllHealth Network’s School Based Mental Health Specialist
Jennifer Morris, our School-Based Mental Health Specialist, recently hosted AllHealth Network’s first Facebook Live event to discuss preparing for back to school. Jennifer shared her answers to some of the biggest and most commonly asked questions she has received from parents and school staff as children begin start school this fall.
Question #1: How can I help my child prepare for going back to school (no matter what that looks like)?
Start talking to your child about it by providing information and age appropriate details as you know them. Even if you’re uncertain what things may look like, sharing these details with children reminds them that they are part of the conversation. Check in regularly as updates come out and consider talking about them while doing something, like playing ball or driving, to help take the pressure off.
Be open about the fact that things will look different, including health precautions like masks, social distancing, cohorts, potential closures, hybrid schedules, etc. Give them information about virtual learning versus in-person learning differences so they can be informed.
Next, share your views as a family and why you’ve made certain decisions (i.e. remote learning from home or in-person) and answer any questions they have. Follow up with your child and explore how they are feeling – are they worried, excited? Ask them open-ended questions and validate their feelings.
Last but not least, start planning and doing things to help your child feel prepared, such as getting them on a school schedule, practicing reading, or getting supplies.
Question #2: How can I help my child cope with potential changes or disruptions this school year?
Talk to your child about what’s going on and prepare them for possible changes that may arise. Share information and details based on their age and maturity. Talk about what’s going on and how it will impact them, but keep it simple and positive. Something like, “This year may have many changes but we will manage it together” could be a good way to frame your conversation.
Identify things that they do have control over, and things they can do to help cope with those uncertainties. Our recent Well-Being Connection on Tolerating Uncertainty also shares some great information to this point.
Get the information you need as a parent in order to be able to manage your own mental health and get the support you need. Contact school staff and ask questions to better understand what the school year may look like for your child. Also find a support network of parents you can share information and resources with.
Lastly, create and maintain some structure by building a routine into your schedule (i.e. bedtime, wake time, schoolwork time) that can stay fairly consistent regardless of in-person learning vs remote learning from home. This sense of predictability and stability can be helpful for kids. Also, have a designated work space for your child to promote better focus.
Question #3: How can I help my child manage anxiety about health or safety concerns related to COVID-19?
Again, talk to your child about what’s going on, what the risks are, and what we are all doing to mitigate risk (i.e. handwashing, cough/sneeze in tissue/elbow, mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding crowds). Use examples that they can relate to. Take cues from your child based on whether they ask more questions, or seem to understand the information you have provided.
Identify things that we do have control over, and how we can help ourselves and our community. Also, limit media exposure and try to have adult conversations about the circumstances privately.
Check in with your child regularly about their mental health. Ask them how they are doing, and look for signs that they are feeling stressed. For example, has their behavior or sleep pattern changed? Are they more irritable than usual? Helping them maintain structure and routine can also help reduce anxiety.
Focus on your child’s overall physical wellness, as this impacts emotional wellness and ability to handle stress and change. It’s extremely important your child is getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and getting daily exercise.
Question #4: How can I help my child get comfortable wearing a mask?
First, ask yourself: Are you uncomfortable with your child wearing a mask, or are they? It is important to normalize this as much as possible, regardless of our feelings about mask wearing. This is the new normal for now and it will be required at school for most age groups over 5.
Recognize that social referencing (looking to adults and peers to learn and read social cues) will be much harder for children with masks on. Talk about this with your child to help normalize the difficulty. You can also play a game “Guess My Expression” – keep your mask on and use cues like looking at each other’s eyes and eyebrows to guess how the other person is feeling. This will help them practice reading social cues with masks on and find ways to adapt to these new challenges.
Tips to help and prepare for mask wearing at school
- Practice wearing a mask at home or in a safe place and provide an explanation about why we are all wearing them
- Let your child choose a mask they like and help them find options such as animal themes, fun patterns, etc.
- Practice talking with masks on. This can help children realize if they need to adjust the volume of their voice.
Question #5: How can I support my child academically this school year?
Again, get information! Contact your school staff to better understand what the school year may look like for your child. Ask questions to get an understanding of the curriculum your child will be learning and how you can support them, as well as how to best communicate with their teachers.
Finally, reach out to your support network and other parents so that you can share information and resources amongst each other. Remember, we are stronger together.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to AllHealth Network for support if you, your child, or a family member may need it. There is no shame in getting help for navigating these times of uncertainty. AllHealth Network recently received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) to provide free mental health support to people of all ages during the COVID-19 pandemic through Colorado Spirit.
AllHealth Network provides individual and group therapy, as well as psychiatry for all ages through telehealth. We also have a school based therapy team embedded in 31 schools in five local districts who are available via telehealth.
To learn more or get connected with our services, please call our Information and Appointments line at 303-730-8858.