It’s that time of year again. School is starting back. I am guessing that most of us have been trying to wrap our heads around how it is possible that this is the third school year that has been impacted by COVID-19. I’m sure many of you have growing concern for your child’s mental health as this pandemic continues longer than we ever imagined.
With that being said, it is important now more than ever that we are finding ways as parents to support our kids as they return to school in a world that is changing what feels like every day. Our children may be anxious, overwhelmed, sad, fearful, confused and angry–just as we are as adults, but they are not yet able to process and manage these emotions in the same way that we are. Starting back at school is hard enough for most children and COVID-19 has added additional stressors for many of them.
So, how do we support them? As a child therapist and mom, here are my top 5 tips to help your children manage big emotions as school starts back up.
5 Tips for Parents to Support Your Child’s Mental Health:
1. Validate, validate, validate
Giving our children space to express their feelings and letting them know that their feelings are OK is empowering for them. They want to feel heard and understood – and reflecting back our understanding of their emotions can be powerful. By normalizing their feelings, we let them know that they are not alone in feeling that way. Rather than saying “it will be fine”, try “I know that it can feel scary to not know what will happen, but I am here to talk and listen and we will get through this together”. Seattle Children’s Hospital shares some great additional ways to validate your children here.
2. Give them information
They want to know what is going on in their world. Giving them age appropriate information is useful for kids. The CDC has information on their website about how to talk to your children about COVID-19. Giving them information about ways that they can remain safe and discussing precautions that the school district is doing can ease some anxiety for children. This school year their worries may extend beyond normal back to school jitters. Talking with them about what to expect when they are returning to school can help teach them how to manage stress.
3. Regulate, regulate, regulate
You know that old saying that “kids are sponges”? They are, in more ways than one. This means that they take in how we as parents are regulating and managing our own emotions. They know when we are anxious or angry or overwhelmed and this can lead to them being dysregulated. Finding coping skills and ways to help us manage our emotions during these stressful times and involving our children in practicing these skills can help give them the tools to regulate their emotions as they enter back into the classroom. This coping skills checklist is a great resource to help you in this.
4. Set boundaries and have a routine
During this time where nothing feels normal, creating a routine for your children can be very beneficial for their mental health. Kids want limits and boundaries. They want to know what to expect. As parents, helping our children know what to expect each day can alleviate worries. Things are changing for them almost daily right now, so having routines and expectations for household rules can help our children have some consistency.
5. Take action to get support for your child’s mental health
You and your children do not have to go through this alone. Talk to your child’s primary care doctor, teacher or mental health professional for support. Hope starts here with Family Counseling Service; please call our intake department at 630-844-2662 or contact us online. We are here to listen and ready to provide the support you may need.