As students settle back in to the classroom, the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo Wellington is looking to help families adjust to the transition with tips to help children combat stress.
Krista Sibbilin, director of children's services for the CMHA WW, explains young children do have depressive and stressful experiences, which can lead them to react in different ways.
“It’s typically either being withdrawn or some avoidance, we see it in a lot of separation anxiety and we see a lot in different behaviours," said Sibbilin.
“Separation anxiety is huge right now for young children because they have been home with their families for some time now,” said Sibbilin, adding social connections that can aid in health and development have been cut off for more than a year.
To combat stress, the tips provided to parents by CMHA WW prior to school starting focus on building communication, awareness and social connections.
These tips include encouraging social interaction with friends and peers either virtually or in person safely; normalizing the topic that summer is coming to an end and that school will be restarting; taking younger children to play at the school playground to become re-acquainted with the space; begin practicing good habits such as mask wearing and hand washing; and setting a bedtime (and/or wake up time) and moving it closer to what it should be for the school year.
A complete list of all the tips can be read here.
Out of all of them, Sibbilin suggests parents focus on developing routines, social connections and communication with their youth or children. She adds there are also many resources available within the school board and the community to help.
"We don't want people suffering and we want to be accessible for people to develop some coping strategies, have an opportunity to talk to support staff...wherever those resources may be." said Sibbilin.
Sibbilin adds families should also try listening and being available for their children when they are stressed.
“Paying attention to your child’s moods and their behaviours, listening to what they’re saying, whether it’s through words or their behaviours."
For parents who may also be struggling with their own mental health right now, Sibbilin recommends reaching out to resources, like Here 24/7, using their own social connections and prioritizing self-care, like going for a walk, getting out into nature or grabbing a coffee with a friend.
“As we settle in...it’s continuing self-care for yourself as a parent, having those social connections as a parent and for your children is really important, and knowing there’s resources in the community.”
While trying these tips out during the start of the school year, Sibbilin adds some families with a stressed child or youth may not need to use all of them.
“We’re all human, some tips are going to work and some tips aren’t,” said Sibbilin, “It’s really knowing your child and what works for them and what is needed.”
To find more resources to support your mental health or the mental health of a loved one, go to cmhaww.ca.