If you are a parent of a school-age child, then chances are you’re a little -- or very -- nervous for the start of what promises to be one of the most unusual school years on record, due to COVID-19. Distance learning has left most parents, students – as well as teachers and staff -- extremely anxious about not just health and safety, but also about how students will navigate the rigors and stress of the school year ahead.
Fortunately, the nonprofit group Wellness Together – which collaborates with Blue Shield of California on our signature youth mental health initiative, BlueSky – is here to help. Wellness Together Assistant Director Jeremiah Aja offers these five tips for parents and guardians to help start off the 2020-21 school year on the right foot.
- Parents and guardians are the pilot and the passenger in this journey
- Parents and guardians are leading by example during this time. Students will take their cues from them on how to navigate the road ahead.
- Take care of yourself and your own emotional needs.
- "A child usually starts school no calmer than her least-relaxed parent.’” -Child Mind Institute
- Structure and predictability will be prized commodities during uncertain times
- Help your student to create a distraction-free space to work and be productive.
- Collaborate with your student to create a daily or weekly schedule for some consistency.
- If your student is in middle school or older, ask them to design what they would like to see for daily and weekly rhythms, then evaluate with them to create a helpful plan.
- Lead with empathy
- Communicate to your students that it is normal and OK to feel overwhelmed during this time.
- Normalize that they are sad and frustrated about their losses and things they cannot participate in during this time.
- Pick your battles - choose the relationship with them over winning the argument.
- Watch out for signs that your student may need additional support for their mental wellness. (Telehealth sessions may be helpful).
- It’s impossible to be anxious and grateful at the same time
- Gratitude is the antiseptic for anxiety and fears about the future and really helps ground us in the present.
- Write out or talk about three to five specific things (smaller number for younger students) that you are grateful for - no repeats or general answers.
- Do this daily or three times a week whenever it is best for your household on a regular basis.
- Encourage your student to connect virtually with small groups of friends
- Connecting with others in real time, even in a virtual or phone setting, has a positive impact on mental health.
- Encourage your student to take a break from social media platforms that are built to connect in an asynchronous and/or one-on-one environment and replace that with time spent in small groups using Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Hulu or YouTube Watch parties, etc.
- If your home has a limit on screen time, allow these times with friends not to count against their daily limit.
There is no doubt we are in unprecedented times right now and most experts agree that there definitely will be many more lessons learned about youth mental health and resiliency as distance learning continues. Aja suggests we all strap on our safety belts for the time being. "When we, or our children, feel anxious about what the future may hold, ground yourself in the present moment and find strength in connecting with others."
For more tips and suggestions on how to boost youth resiliency during the pandemic, please visit the COVID-19 Resources section on our BlueSky webpage.