Most kids around the country are back in classrooms by now, but this school year isn’t quite the return-to-normalcy that everyone had hoped for. Covid-19 cases are surging again, and many school districts have already closed due to outbreaks. Others are offering remote learning options. This school year is already feeling uncertain and anxiety ridden for many students.
“Teacher, kids, everybody thought we were going to come back this year and everything would be back to normal,” says Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a senior vice president at Array Behavioral Care. “And now that it’s not, how do we prepare kids for another potentially challenging year?”
That’s a question she’s been getting a lot from schools in recent weeks. So what do you do? Christian-Brathwaite and other mental health experts gave NPR some tips that parents, teachers and all adults can use to help kids cope better in these uncertain times.
- Adults, take care of your own well being first.
“There are no healthy children without healthy adults,” says Christian-Brathwaite.
It’s important for adults in charge of kids to take care of their own mental health, she says, so they are able to better manage whatever comes their way.
Practice things that will support your resilience, advises child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Vera Feuer, the associate vice president for school mental health at Northwell Health.
Feuer suggests doing calming activities like yoga and meditation. In fact, any physical activity can help, she adds, like hiking, dancing or playing sports. It will help you manage your emotions better and stay calm during stressful times, she says. And in the process you can teach your kids or students these important skills, too.
“Kids and parents should understand that we all have anxiety and stress in our lives, and the goal is not to eliminate it, but to learn to manage it,” adds Feuer.
Christian-Brathwaite suggests incorporating calming activities like meditation into the school day — either at the start of the day, or during transitions between classes.
“Something as simple as a regular practice of meditation or mindfulness, it decreases our stress response,” she says. “It brings kids out of that fight, flight or freeze, and it brings the adults out of it as well.”
- Talk to kids about their concerns — and validate their feelings
It’s important to start talking to kids about their emotions and their mental health early, and before things reach a crisis point.
Families should “provide kids with open spaces to discuss their concerns,” says Feuer. “This generation is changing in terms of their view of mental health. And there is a positive shift in the stigma issue in terms of kids being more willing and able to come forward and talk about things. And really, adults need to continue to support that.”
The same advice goes for schools, too, says Dena Trujillo, interim CEO of Crisis Text Line, which has created a toolkit called Mental Health School Supplies to help kids cope better during these times.
“Some of these things seem basic, but they’re really important,” she says.
And when kids express their concerns, say about being back in school, or fear of infections, parents and teachers need to accept their concerns as valid, says Feuer, and then teach them tools to manage their anxiety and stress, like yoga, meditation and mindfulness. [see the ful article]