This piece was originally published in October 2020. Author and Middle School personal counsellor Allison Peace is currently on leave. Middle School families can contact personal counsellor Gaby Emmett if they wish to connect.
The positive energy of having your children back in classes is undeniable and I’ve seen many joyful and happy learners back in our halls. At the same time, we are still noticing a steady need for mental health support, particularly with older youth. So whether your child is sliding back to school with joy and contentment, or they are shaky from stress and anxiety, this is a great time to hit pause and talk about parenting during the pandemic.
At SMUS, we continue to make counselling accessible to our students with 1:1 support available and a counsellor at each campus. We also offer support in navigating referrals to professionals in the community and are happy to help connect you or your child with the right help. Our recent parent surveys have also been useful for us as we respond to and support common mental health themes while working with larger groups of students in classes and homerooms. When our faculty headed back to school in September, we hosted a Trauma Informed Education session so teachers can understand your child’s most important needs in returning to school during the pandemic. Supporting executive functioning skills are high priority, as are movement, mindfulness, relationships and connections. This is all in our minds as we support your child in coming to school ready to learn.
Knowing that the support that students receive at home is just as crucial in ensuring your child’s mental health, as well as their social and emotional health, I’m pleased to be able to offer five tips for parents during a pandemic:
Know what to look for
It’s helpful to know what is a typical response to the pandemic and when to consider seeking professional help for your child.
For months, children have been absorbing the message that the world is unsafe and the future is uncertain. It is no surprise that the pandemic has had an impact on the hearts and minds of children. Typical responses to living in this climate are deficits in children’s executive functioning skills. For some children (and adults) it has been harder to make decisions, focus, organize, or prioritize. You may also have noticed changes in their sleep patterns or they may be more irritable, impatient, or angry. It may also be a bit harder for them to get out of a funk.
Some children may be more prone to anxiety, and can appear to be wound too tight, while others can appear apathetic with a feeling of, “what’s the point?” Trying to discern what are the typical developmental responses of a youth and what is a more significant mental health concern can be hard.
What you are on the lookout for are prolonged feelings of anxiety or feeling down. Pay special attention to comments like, “I don’t know why I feel like this” or, “There’s no reason to feel down,” which can be followed by shame and guilt for these emotions.
Finding good quality support for your child can be overwhelming and challenging. Reaching out to our school’s Personal Counselling team is a good first step. We can provide support to your child, and if your child requires more support we can help navigate how to get the right help, with the right people at the right time. We are here for you and your child, so please don’t hesitate to contact us (you can find our contact information at the bottom of this post).
Dig deep for compassion
I always like a catchy phrase, so here is one of my favourites: “Name it to tame it. Feel it to heal it. Soften, soothe and allow.”
Some of us are tapping out our compassion reserves and can feel fatigued or even frustrated by the focus on acknowledging that this is still hard for some. Now that school is back, it is easy to get swept up with “business as usual.” It can become very troubling for a child when the messages they hear and the feelings they have inside are incongruent.
There is no risk in validating your child’s emotions and expressing compassion. The worst that can happen is they tell you they feel fine, and they know that it is OK if they don’t. We want children to feel their feelings and allow them to run their course, without risking that they get stuck inside without a healthy way out.
Update your family routine
Even the most principled families had to loosen up expectations in ways they typically wouldn’t have before the pandemic. Perhaps you extended your limits on screen time and they haven’t quite swung back to what you typically value as a family. Maybe by the time you got to dinner you all went off to your own corners of the house to eat on your own. On the other hand there may also be routines that you began during the pandemic that were healthy and helpful for your family, like board game nights or family walks.
Ask yourself: what routines came from COVID that you are still accepting as a family that are no longer serving you? What worked for you during COVID that you want to continue to make space for in your family time?
Set your parenting intentions for the school year
There is an endless list of aspirations a parent has for their child. Throughout your child’s life you have hopes and dreams for what you want to instil: a dedicated work ethic, a well-rounded kid who balances academics, an active lifestyle, and music and arts. Or maybe your family values instilling the pillars of respect, courage, honesty, and service.
Now is the time to pause, and consider “What is it time for this year?” Truly consider what are one or two intentions you have in your parenting right now in the context of the pandemic.
If you have swung back to older goals, ask yourself if you are holding too tightly onto an expectation that may not be serving them right now. For example, are they stacked up with extracurriculars? They have likely gone from no social interaction to full tilt 8 am to 3 pm schooling. What’s your child’s temperament? Behaviour is communication; what do they need right now and what needs is their behaviour highlighting?
Tune into your own feelings, thoughts and reactions
There’s no doubt that all these changes can result in stress in ourselves and within the family. I continue to be amazed with how attuned children are to conflict or stress in the home. Discord in the family is an understandable byproduct of the high-stress time in which we are living, so being mindful of how we deal with conflict in front of our children is especially important right now. Sometimes we get so caught up in taking care of others that we can let our own self care slip. So here’s a little nudge to reach out to your support network, make time to connect with your partner, and follow all of your own tried and tested self-care strategies.
Please remember that each SMUS campus has personal counsellors who are available and accessible to support students, parents and families.
Your school counsellors include Tessa Lloyd at the Junior School, Gaby Emmett at the Middle School and Carole McMillan, Theresa Jackson, Lauren Mavrikos and practicum student Kyle Shaw at the Senior School.
We encourage you to reach out to your school counsellor if you would like to connect: