Back to school season has begun! But the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a never-ending issue, which can generate a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for everyone. It may not be easy for children to go back to school in-person after they’ve worked so hard to get used to Zoom classes for the past year. Being away from their parents and having to strictly follow social distancing and many other safety rules can easily cause mental stress on children. We understand this kind of anxiety revolving around the new school year, and we’ve gathered a number of resources that can help your children go through this hectic time. We specifically focused on resources that can assist you in improvement of the children’s mental health and well-being. For example: What is anxiety? What symptoms do children show? What kind of activities that children can do to express their emotions? What kind of communication skills can parents and caregivers adopt? Find out more by exploring the tips and relevant videos below:
Coping with worry & Returning to school
In this video series, you can find out what exactly anxiety is and ways to help children deal with their anxiety. Use words of encouragement. You can also wait until they talk, if they don’t want to immediately talk about their emotions. Recognize and respect their uncertainty. Encourage information diet: Allow them to explore online news/information resources that are age-appropriate and reliable. Practice mindfulness and other possible physical activities. Doing physical activities can calm the children’s body down as they will be using their body energy. Details of mindfulness can be found in this video as well.
Taking care of children with special needs:
This series of tips is recommended by Fiona Currie, a Toronto-based psychologist and special needs parent. Consider making a choice board with a list of children’s favorite things, or a bin with their favorite items, so children can easily point to what they like. This can serve as a tool box motivating your children. Apply delayed reinforcement by requiring children to do 1 task that you want and rewarding them with something from the toolbox. Use a token board, which provides children with waiting period, instead of giving them reward every time immediately. Use visual schedule to represent drawings of what will happen on a particular day.
Visuals to help your children communicate effectively
How about making something called a social script? It is like a note that help children learn what to say and do in certain social context. You can check the internet for scripts and find something like this. Or you can develop your own social script, but remember to use easy words and/or draw pictures that the children understand!
Stay calm in front of your children
Be a model for calm presence and try to validate your children’s feeling. We know life can be frustrating in many ways, but consider staying calm when your children are around with you. You can try taking a deep breath and say things like “This will pass. We can do this.” Also, try naming your children’s feeling and understanding it. You can simply say things like, “Oh that must feel awful/difficult.” This kind of approach can open a door for discussion between you and your children.
Teach emotional vocabularies to your children. Express gradients (or levels) of feeling: Happy, joyful, thrilled, etc. Use easy words and interesting visuals to create vocabularies your children can use when talking about how they feel. This can allow children to understand basic words and move toward richer words. Have no idea? One way is to choose a book. Pick 1-2 emotion words from there, and develop your children-friendly definitions for them!
These videos outline a process of emotional coaching. During the coaching, remember to recognize and be comfortable with your own emotions as well. The coaching can be divided into 4 steps:
- Name the emotion: “You look ___”
- Validate the emotion: “It makes sense you’re sad BECAUSE ___” (Do not use BUT)
- Meet the emotional need – Words/behaviors related to comfort, assurance, belief, etc: “It’s going to be okay, I believe in you.”
- Meet the practical need – Explore solutions and/or suggest activities that can distract (e.g., shall we go for a walk?)
Doing creative (and safe) art activities can be a good way for your children to utilize their imagination and express their emotions. It can allow them to go through stressful times. Some fun examples include painting using kitchen ingredients and drawing dried foods. Dance is another way to release your energy in a healthy way.