For many of us, the beginning of this school year has marked a return to routines and structures that we have been missing since March of 2020. Mixed in with the excitement of getting our students back onto school buses and soccer fields is worry: worry about how the pandemic has impacted our children and how those impacts will show up in their daily lives. As we work tirelessly to protect the physical health of students, there are steps that parents and guardians can take now to help support mental well-being in their children.
- Set / encourage limits on social media.
> Students were very isolated last year, especially during remote learning, and spent more time on screens than ever before. While it helped them to stay connected to friends and school when it was the only way to do so, we now have more options for safely engaging in person. > Learn more about how COVID affected screentime. >Learn more about how you can limit screen time after months of overuse.
> Social media plays a different role in every student’s life—some of them have been seeking out support and coping tips through social media, while others may have been negatively affected by unrealistic expectations about body image, for example. Read more about eating disorders and the pandemic.
> Anxiety is high overall among kids and teens, including social anxiety, and continuing to socialize via texting/social media instead of face to face with peers will only exacerbate that social anxiety by delaying getting back to “normal.
> Be honest about the pros and cons of social media—it is not always a realistic portrait of someone’s life, it can “suck you in” and throw off your time management, and plenty of adults struggle with managing their use also.
- Don’t wait for a crisis to get help.
> Make note of changes in your child’s mood, behavior, eating and sleeping habits. Read more about what to look for.
> Keep up on other health checkups (dental, vision), especially primary care/pediatrician. They can be a great mental health resource and often provide referrals to specialists.
> Learn the different mental health emergency resources available in your area or nationally.
Montgomery County Mobile Crisis: 1-855-634-4673
Delaware County Crisis Connections Team: 1-855-889-7827
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
YouthLine: Text teen2teen to 839863
The Trevor Project: Text START to 678678
>Utilize other trusted adults—coaches, teachers, parents of friends—to make sure your student knows they are supported and can talk to a variety of safe adults about how they’re feeling.
- Make it a part of daily conversation.
> Children will follow your lead: if you open up candid conversations about mental health within your household, they will learn it is okay to talk about how you feel. Here are 14 questions you can ask your student to gauge their emotional and mental well-being.
> Look for answers beyond “fine” and “I don’t know” even if it means setting aside a dedicated time to talk one-on-one.
> Seek out media that addresses real mental health challenges and watch it as a family. Some examples include Steven Universe, One Day at a Time, Never Have I Ever, The Healing Powers of Dude, and Sesame Street.
- Create and return to routines
> A consistent sleep schedule is extremely important for physical and emotional well-being, as well as academic functioning and athletic performance. Read about a study showing the positive impacts of healthy daily routines and adequate sleep.
> Eating meals together is a good way to make sure you have a daily touchpoint for check-ins and also alerts you to changes in eating.
> If your student is struggling with things they cannot do because of COVID or the loss of a specific routine, allow them space to grieve and find a new routine in its place (if you went to the movie theater every Friday, plan a backyard movie night instead). Learn more about how to support your child’s grieving process.