Schooling in a Pandemic: Supporting Mental Health

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It’s the time again that many students and parents are planning for the start of another school year. This year however, has brought to light several questions that we have never before had to ask. Covid-19 has turned the world on it’s head, and as your child prepares for the return of school, either virtually or in person, you may find wondering about your child’s ability to cope with the new normal. Below you might find a few of your questions have been answered by Unicef in one of their latest posts on supporting your child’s mental health as they return to school.

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

Starting school or starting a new school year can be stressful at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. You can make him feel at ease by having an open conversation about what it is that’s worrying him and letting him know that it’s natural to feel anxious.

Children may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school, especially if they have been learning at home for months. Be honest – for example you could go through some of the changes they may expect at school, such as needing to wear forms of protective clothing like masks. Children may also find it difficult being physically distanced from friends and teachers while at school – you could encourage them to think about other ways to bond and stay connected.

Reassure children about safety measures in place to keep students and teachers healthy and remind children that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their elbow.

Remind children about the positives – that they will be able to see their friends and teachers (if they are physically returning to the classroom) and continue learning new things.

My child’s school is recommending the wearing of protective clothing, which is making my child feel more nervous. What should I say to her?

Approach this conversation with empathy, saying that you know she is feeling anxious about coronavirus, but that it’s healthy to talk about our worries and emotions. Children may also get upset or frustrated if they are finding it hard to wear masks, especially when running or playing. You can reassure your children that lots of adults are working hard to keep your family safe, but emphasize that it’s important we all follow the recommended measures to take care of more vulnerable members of our community.  

How can I encourage my child to follow precautions (such as frequent handwashing, physical distancing, etc.) at school without alarming her?

One of the best ways to keep children safe from COVID-19 and other diseases is to simply encourage regular handwashing. It doesn’t need to be a scary conversation. Sing along with their favourite song or do a dance together to make learning fun. Make sure to teach them about how even though germs are invisible, they could still be there. When children understand why they need to wash their hands, they’re likely to continue doing so.

You can also show children how to cover a cough or a sneeze with their elbow, and ask them to tell you if they start to feel like they have a fever, cough or are having difficulty breathing.

How can I gently check in to see how my child is coping?

It’s important to be calm and proactive in your conversations with children – check in with them to see how they are doing. Their emotions will change regularly and you need to show them that’s okay.

Whether at school or at home, caregivers can engage children in creative activities, such as playing and drawing, to help them express and communicate any negative feelings they may be experiencing in a safe and supportive environment. This helps children find positive ways to express difficult feelings such as anger, fear or sadness.

As children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – it is important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, speak kindly and reassure them.

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


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