The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, particularly for children and teens. Classrooms shuttered, giving way to at-home learning. School events were cancelled or modified. Friends could only socialize through video. Several studies showed the toll the pandemic has had on the mental health of young people, with the long-term effects still unknown.
As a new school year nears and in-person gatherings return, Ana Boydstun, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Kaiser Permanente behavioral health manager of child psychiatry, offers advice on how to make this transition period as seamless as possible for the entire family.
“It’s a great time to gather as much information as you can to prepare your children for what they can expect when going back to school,” said Boydstun.
Make sure you’re up to date with their school’s COVID-19 safety protocols, such as masking and social distancing requirements; connect with their teachers to discuss their needs; and ensure your kids get the physical health care they need, including immunizations and well-child checks.
Reintegrating into the community may be exciting for some people, but it can be anxiety provoking for others. It’s vital to talk with your children about how they’re feeling and what their concerns are for returning to school.
“Young people desire their parents’ guidance and support when faced with new challenges, even if it doesn’t seem like it,” Boydstun said. “Let them know you are open to hearing their struggles and questions, then reassure them.”
People 12 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination. If your kids aren’t vaccinated yet, help them understand the importance of following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking guidance, especially as COVID-19 infections are on the rise due to the new delta variant.
“Empower your children to take the necessary measures to stay safe in any situation,” Boydstun said. “That includes washing hands, physical distancing, and opting out of large gatherings if they — or you — don’t feel comfortable.”
Some kids may not feel or show things right away when they are stressed. How can you tell when your child is experiencing more than a transition phase or a few bad days?
Significant changes in your child’s emotional or behavioral functions — changes in sleeping or eating patterns, an inability to focus, or less energy and pleasure from activities they used to enjoy — may be signs that depression or anxiety is disrupting their ability to cope with everyday life.
If you notice these changes with your child, it’s time to get help from their doctor or mental health professional.
Kaiser Permanente’s FindYourWords has information on building resilience and managing stress to help you and your children feel mentally and emotionally strong.
Putting health at the center of education is the goal of Back to School, Back Together, a campaign from Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools to help parents and schools plan for the “next normal” and ensure everyone’s academic year gets off to a healthy start.
It’s important that your kids see how you’re prioritizing activities that fulfill your own well-being — whether it’s meditation, exercise, or some time away. Your role-modeling helps them learn how to build coping and resilience strategies for themselves.
“The less stressed you are, the better parent you’ll be,” Boydstun added.
“Remind yourself of the ways you are effective as a parent even when it doesn’t feel like it. Acknowledge that there is still a lot out of our control, and showing love and support to your children goes a long way.”
Difficult times can build resilience in young people, enabling them to better handle stress and rebound stronger from a setback, according to Boydstun. Being prepared for this next chapter is the best way to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s mental health care at kp.org/mentalhealth.