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Supporting your child’s mental health as they return to school during COVID-19

Tips for parents to help their children navigate their feelings during the new school year (2020-2021).

My child is scared to go back to school. How can I help him/her feel at ease? 

Everything at school will certainly look different this year. Starting school or starting a new school year can be stressful at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. Therefore, it’s natural that your child feels more anxious than usual. Make him/her feel at ease by having an open conversation about what it is that’s worrying him/her and reassure him/her that everything is going to be ok and that he/she can ask for your help anytime. 

Your child may feel nervous or even reluctant to return to school, especially if he/she have been doing remote learning at home for months. On top of that, he/she may also find it difficult being physically distanced from friends and teachers while at school – you could encourage him/her to think about other ways to bond and stay connected. It’s important to educate him/her about the safety measures that are put in place and remind them that by following the guidelines (i.e. frequent hand washing, coughing or sneezing into elbows) he/she is not only keeping himself/herself safe, but also keeping his/her classmates and teachers safe. 

My child’s school is recommending the wearing of face covering, which is making my child feel uneasy. What should I say to him/her?

Be empathetic when you speak with your child about this matter. Acknowledge that you know he/she is feeling anxious, but reassure him/her that it’s healthy (and absolutely normal) to talk about our worries and emotions. For younger children, they may also get frustrated or agitated if they are finding it hard to wear face coverings, especially when running around and playing during recess. Continue to encourage your child to follow the recommended measures and emphasize that in doing so they are contributing to a community effort in keeping everyone safe, especially the vulnerable members (i.e. seniors). 

My child is not part of the same group as his/her close friends returning to school and is feeling even more isolated. How can he/she feel more connected to the classroom and his/her friends?

Schools that are administering in-person cohort learning may (unintentionally) separate your child from his/her friends. This would likely cause him/her to be anxious and low-spirited. First, it’s important to remind your child that learning can happen anywhere – at school and at home. Then, talk to him/her about other ways to keep connected with his/her friends. Safe and monitored use of online games, social media and video chat programmes can provide great opportunities for him/her to connect with, learn and play with his/her friends, parents and relatives while at home. If your child is a bit older, you could also encourage him/her to use his/her voices online to share his/her views and support those in need during this crisis.

Take advantage of digital tools that get your child up and moving, like online exercise videos for kids and video games that require physical movement. Just keep in mind to balance online recreation with offline activities, including time outside, if possible. 

My child is worried about bullying at school and online, how can I talk to him/her about it?

Nowadays, bullying can happen in-person and online – cyberbullying. The latter can be hard to detect sometimes because the effects are not apparent or visible immediately. Also children may not want to talk about it due to embarrassment, fear losing access to technology, and such. Check in with your child frequently and ask about how he/she is doing at school, his/her activities online and about his/her feelings. Some children may not express their emotions verbally, so look out for any anxious or odd behaviour that may indicate something is wrong.

It’s also good to constantly engage your child in open and honest conversations about how to stay safe online. Make sure he/she understands the value of kind and supportive conversations and certainly that means discriminatory or inappropriate interaction is never acceptable (check out tips regarding talking about Internet safety with your child). If your child experience any of these, encourage him/her to tell you or a trusted adult immediately. 

Your child’s school should have its own safeguarding and bullying policies, as well as the appropriate mechanisms and helplines available – contact your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to get these information. 

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