How to Prioritize Student Mental Health During Uncertain Times

The COVID-19 pandemic is a major health concern affecting our global population. As of September 1, 2020, the U.S. alone has seen over six million confirmed cases and the unfortunate result of more than 190,000 deaths. Not only has the physical health of our population suffered, our mental health has been impacted in ways that […]

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a major health concern affecting our global population. As of September 1, 2020, the U.S. alone has seen over six million confirmed cases and the unfortunate result of more than 190,000 deaths. Not only has the physical health of our population suffered, our mental health has been impacted in ways that we never saw coming, including the mental wellbeing of our children. 

Schools have resumed across the U.S. and we are seeing a combination of in-person and remote learning as cities and states decide on the best path forward for their students. The thing we must remember, however, is that this school year will be like no other. It is very possible that many more students have fallen behind academically and emotionally than expected with the average curve of summer learning loss. 

The abrupt closure of schools last March, coupled with the shut down of many summertime activities and the caution many parents are taking to ensure the health of their families has put many parents and children in an uncomfortable position, reducing the socio-emotional connection that is so important for students to learn during their formative years. 

Research shows that 50% of high school students have elevated levels of stress due to COVID-19. And it is not just the older kids—39% of elementary-aged students report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and fear because of the pandemic. Students who are in constant worry are less able to concentrate on the task at hand when placed in an academic setting. Children learn best when there is structure, routine, and encouragement both in the classroom and at home. While none of us may understand the full scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, or when we will see a sense of normalcy again, it is important that we provide our children with the best knowledge and tools to help them succeed academically and socially. 

How can we ensure our students’ mental health isn’t suffering this school year? Let’s break it down with five tips to promote positive mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic: 

  1. Keep your kids informed. Talk with your kids about the current state of our economy. Even the small ones will benefit from the discussion. Explaining what COVID-19 is will help erase any imaginary fears they may have built up. Additionally, you want to ensure you explain the situation in a way that demonstrates the importance of staying healthy and that it is not a trivial matter.  
  2. Schedule uninterrupted family time. Many families are struggling with working from home while their students learn from home. We are all in front of our devices much more than normal these days, and to ensure we give proper attention to our children, it is important to schedule time to turn them off. Family dinners are an excellent way to regroup after a long day. Family discussions allows kids to hear that their parents have rough days, letting them know that it is ok to vent and solving problems together is the best way to move forward. It is also a great way to celebrate individual successes, like acing a job interview or that crucial math test!
  3. Stick to a routine. Children thrive when they have a schedule to follow. Understanding exactly what is coming up for the day and week ahead helps them develop a plan (even if in their heads) and helps avoid being uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations. Think about creating and posting a family calendar with must-dos and want-to-dos to keep everyone informed and on schedule. 
  4. Support their creative outlets. Just as routine is important, so is free time. Making sure your children get time to explore their own creative outlets can reduce the pressure and stress they feel from school and other areas in their lives. Supporting your child’s desires to paint, run, or play guitar will improve their mental health, and maybe even allow you some time to yourself. Remember that sometimes, for parents and children, this can even mean decompressing in front of the TV for a while. 
  5. Know when to call a professional. For some, the stress and anxiety of life during a pandemic is too much to handle. Children and adults can experience severe depression or become too anxious for the average family to help alleviate. It is important to realize your personal situation and know when to ask for help. Professional counselors are helpful when speaking to a friend or family member seems like too much. Telehealth appointments make it convenient to get the help you or your children need during COVID-19. 

Finding a connection with your children will help reduce their stress and anxiety, and yours as well. If you are still unsure where to start, check out these great family conversation starters. The CDC website also offers useful parental resources to learn how to discuss COVID-19 with your kids. Whatever your approach, please remember that we will all get through this, as long as we do it together.

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