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Back-to-school tips for parents during the COVID-19 pandemic

School tips for parents
(via CMHA BC)

Returning to school isn't just stressful for the students, during the pandemic parents are also feeling the anxious about the return to class.

That's why the Canadian Mental Health Association has a few tips for parents who are sending their children back-to-school next week. 

Dr. Carlton Duff, R. Psych, clinical lead at CMHA BC, has these three tips for parents with children experiencing anxiety. 

Tip #1: Remember that anxiety can be a false alarm

  • Talk to your kids about how our bodies have an alarm system called anxiety: it alerts us to danger by making us feel afraid and getting us ready to escape when we need to.
  • But sometimes our bodies give off a false alarm even when we are safe, like when we feel anxious about COVID-19 infection even though we follow the guidance of public health officials.
  • Set aside some time when your child is calm to talk to them about false alarms and how you can support them to face their fears when their alarm is going off.

Tip #2: Show them how to cope

  • If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed about the pandemic or the burdens faced by you and your family, recruit the help of family and friends to talk it through.
  • Try to find outdoor activities you can do together with your child, and give yourself permission to recharge your batteries through activities you enjoy alone.
  • Of course, be sure to reach out to your family doctor or a mental health professional to keep your own mental health fine-tuned as well.

Tip #3: Be brave by example

  • Instead of feeding in to worry, parents can talk to their children about how scary not knowing can be and how they plan to face the future with bravery.
  • For example, talk to your child about a big sports competition they were nervous about (but won), or about the challenges you faced when you first became a parent (but overcame).
  • Although these examples are different in many ways from the pandemic, they still show kids how you can be afraid of uncertainty and face it with bravery.

Mags Jankowiak, another clinical lead at CMHA BC has four tips for parents with children with behaviour problems. 

Tip #1: Recognize your own “hot-button” issues regarding return to school

  • Rather than ignoring big emotions or reacting to them with our own escalation use techniques such as taking deep breaths so that you can respond to your child rather than react.
  • Take a few seconds to pause whatever you are doing, use the STOP acronym to remember and show children how to regulate.
    • S - stop whatever you are doing
    • T - take a breath (or 3 deep breaths)
    • O - observe what is happening
    • P - proceed with what you were doing

Tip #2: Use encouragement and small rewards for behaviour

  • Tell your child what you want them to do. Be specific and clear, using positive language rather than telling them what not to do. Use the when-then principle.
  • For example, “when you complete 3 classes then we will do some baking.”

Tip #3: Break down overwhelming tasks into small achievable steps

  • Parents influence children’s school success by helping them develop and use organizing strategies to complete the many steps involved in safety measures and academic routines. 
  • Any step can be a stumbling block for a child. When a step is too big, parents help by identifying stumbling blocks, breaking them down into small achievable steps, and encouraging progress with incentives. Daily academic routines help children accomplish long-term academic goals.

Tip #4: Recognize your own limits and take time to look after yourself

  • We are living through highly unusual times, it is normal to feel tired and unmotivated at times. School work is important and so are you. Be mindful of your capacity and show yourself kindness and compassion. 
  • You are not alone. Do things that energize you even when they feel like work: exercising or preparing healthy foods. Reach out for help to friends and family as well professionals when needed.