Going Back to School – How Will This Affect our Children’s Mental Health?
| Published: 17 September 2023 | 15 min read
| Published: 17 September 2023 | 15 min read
It’s official. Our kids are going back to school in a few weeks. Parent’s communities online are abuzz with a zillion questions, opinions, perspectives, and fears. So many questions are being raised with no exact answers. In particular, I get a lot of questions that have to do with going back to school and children’s mental health. To a parent, this idea is very scary.
Our number one priority is to protect our children. We feel if we have exact answers to our questions then we will feel safe and we will know that our children are safe. In this environment, with a completely new Pandemic, all of our health experts and Scientists have a vast challenge on their hands.
How do they direct us in safely educating all the while protecting the safety of our children? They rely on science in order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic while also having a very strong base of knowledge of exactly how important being in school is for our children’s mental health.
Alex Munter, CHEO and CEO of Ottawa’s children’s hospital stressed how very important it is to get our children back to school and into their social environment. Many children’s health experts are already seeing the negative results of having our children segregated.
I myself see this with my own child and adolescent clients. I have seen the effect with my own young daughter and some of her friends. The light that once lit our children up is going out and depression is already taking them over. Also, their brains are rapidly growing and they need their normal social connections and in-person learning to facilitate this appropriate growth.
What do our children need most from their parents as we prepare to head back? Similar to an earlier article I penned, Here, it is from a child’s perspective.
“I am sooo excited to go back to school! I miss my friends soooo much and I can’t wait to see my Teacher from last year! I thought I was having March break and then I was coming back to school to see her again and then suddenly, she was ripped out of my life.
I didn’t get to say Good Bye. We didn’t get to celebrate her Birthday as we had all planned. I missed her so much. I miss my friends so much! I felt sad for so long, then I sort of started to not feel anything. I feel sort of numb, like nothing really makes me happy and nothing really makes me feel sad. It’s weird…. Oh Well.
So, getting back to school this year!
I am sooo happy we get to go back!”
“Lately though, my Mom and Dad have been constantly talking and sometimes arguing about me going back. Mom is completely stressed out about me going back.
She thinks that it isn’t safe enough but my Dad feels the opposite. He tells my Mom to relax and stop being dramatic! Mom tells him that “He isn’t taking this seriously! This is the safety of our child!” “How can you not take this serious!? No one knows what is the safest options! Not even health experts!” My Mom is furious. She storms out of the room and my Dad mumbles something about her being exhausting….”
“How can something I am so excited and happy about doing cause so much stress and arguing amongst my Parents? Why is everyone so mad?! Can’t they see this is so great??
So, what if I have to wear a mask?! At least I can get out of this house and see all of my friends and Teachers again! Don’t they understand that this is what I want?
I need normalcy so badly! I love school!
I just want everything to go back to normal!”
“Mom is scared all of the time and Dad is mad and stressed.
I feel like listening to all of the fear and arguing for the past 5 months has made me feel so scared. I don’t know if we can afford the things we need because I have heard so many discussions about money. Life has just been completely different and there have been good things but, many bad things.
Don’t they understand that if they ‘aren’t okay, I can’t be okay’?
I need them to be okay so they can take care of me. If they aren’t I get so scared.
I need Mom and Dad to be calm, to tell me everything and everyone will be okay.
I need them to show me that no matter what happens, they will be here for me.
I can not handle all of their stress and anxiety anymore!
They think they are hiding it from me but they aren’t!”
This is just a snippet of what our children are experiencing.
How can we help our children? I have heard many Parents ask this question.
The most important thing we can do for our children is take care of our own mental health.
They can only be okay if we are okay.
We can manage our stress through learning techniques that can calm our own anxiety.
Whether that be deep breathing skills or Cognitive Behavioural techniques which can help us manage our automatic thoughts. (usually these are negative thoughts).
I have discovered a specific protocol for decreasing the automatic anxious responses of our fight or flight response. It helps to regulate our brain and our reactions and takes us from an anxious brain to a relaxed brain.
It is a simple technique that I teach my adult as well as and my child and teenage clients.
It takes approximately 3 weeks to notice a significant change in your anxious responses if done regularly.
Self care is important. When we take care of ourselves, our children experience a more safe and calm Parent and we model to them what taking care of themselves looks like.
This can mean taking a bath while listening to soft or meditative music.
Exercising, cooking healthy foods, setting positive goals, reading, yoga and spending time with friends in whichever way works for you are all ways of taking care of yourself sets a beautiful example for our kids.
Our children will then perceive us as ‘okay’, as calm and as grounded.
When they can see us like this, they can then feel the same.
I feel the most important part of this return to school experience is going to be how the Parents are choosing to handle it. The way you handle it, is the way your children will handle it.
If you can remain calm, positive and be gentle in your conversations around this return to school, so will your children.
If they struggle, you will be grounded enough to take good care of them, so that they can have their experience without feeling the need to worry about you.
When our children feel they need to take care of us, this sets them up for a lifetime of abandoning themselves in favour of pleasing everyone else.
As Parents, let’s reach out for the help or support that we need, so that we can be the support our children need when they reach as well.