Back-to-school 2021 may be nothing like any other back-to-school season before.
The question parents are asking themselves in 2021 is, “Should I send my child back to school?”
Parents not only have to worry about their children catching COVID, they also need to consider their child’s mental health.
This is an incredibly hard decision, and in most cases, there is simply no right or wrong answer.
However, schools can be a safe place to send your children. Especially if the community and school administration and staff follow proper precautions.
The CDC reports among communities with low to moderate infection rates there is no increase in hospitalizations when comparing areas with in-person learning to areas with online or distance learning.
The success and safety of in-person learning depends largely on the approach of the administration and staff.
More than a year into the pandemic, it can be difficult to make our kids and ourselves stick to guidelines for social distancing, handwashing, and other safety precautions.
However, these basic steps are just as important now as ever before.
Even in communities with high infection rates, schools that follow recommended safety precautions have kept their students safe and infection rates low.
The best way to keep students safe is to use “layered prevention strategies”.
Layered prevention strategies work exactly as they sound. Students must keep socially distanced, wear a mask if they’re not vaccinated, and stay home if they are experiencing respiratory symptoms.
Routine screening and testing also play a major role in a well-rounded prevention strategy.
Oftentimes, children don’t show symptoms even if they are infected. This is both a curse and a blessing.
Regular screening and testing in schools will keep students who are not showing symptoms from spreading infections.
The CDC recommends students who are not fully vaccinated be screened or tested every two weeks.
Screening and testing become even more important in schools or communities where infection rates are high or basic safety protocols are not properly enforced.
Fears of vaccines have reignited. This time the fear centers on the COVID vaccine.
Not only are parents worried about vaccine side effects, they’re also worried about the vaccine’s interaction with traditional childhood vaccines.
Illinois health officials want to reassure parents. They don’t need to pick and choose which vaccines to give their child.
The COVID vaccine has not been shown to cause negative reactions when combined with other common pediatric vaccines.
Kids and young adults may have been able to avoid many of the physical side effects of COVID. But, the toll COVID has taken on their mental health is a different story.
Virtual Learning Can Lead To Real Struggles
Although students are more tech-savvy than ever before, virtual learning can create several situations with the potential to be harmful to a student’s mental health.
Without normal routines and structure, students and adults can struggle.
Routines and structure can be particularly beneficial during very uncertain or stressful times.
Routines allow us to accomplish more during our day. The feeling of moving forward helps to reduce anxiety and depression. It also boosts self-confidence.
They are also good for fighting back against negative thoughts. If your mind begins to wander during stressful times you are more likely to focus on the negative. This will only make your stress and anxiety worse.
Isolation can be another major mental health stumbling block for students attending school virtually. It may seem strange to think about, but humans are still social animals. But, it is true.
We thrive when we have plenty of opportunities for social interaction and building relationships.
Students may become anxious or depressed not being able to be around their friends.
Going to school in person gives them time to chat with friends during classes, make plans at lunch, or hang out after school.
Not connecting with friends may also make students feel lonely.
They can also be anxious or depressed because they feel left out and worried their friends will move on without them.
It goes without saying that learning and access to resources are also more different for virtual students.
They often feel on their own to make sense of the material, and it may be harder for them to get help if they’re having trouble understanding something.
These extra challenges can increase feelings of anxiety or depression.
The pandemic has been harder on students in lower-income areas, and communities of color.
In fact, according to recent research, black and Latino students struggled 9% more than white and Asian students.
Many of the students struggling the most rely on their schools for more than just an education.
For some students reduced or free breakfast and lunch are their main meals.
Not attending school in person may mean having to struggle with hunger.
Other students receive critical services during the school day. The services can include anything from speech therapy to counseling.
All too often, receiving services through their school is the only way for these students to get the help they need.
Being Back At School Has Its Challenges
Fear is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles students, parents, and communities have to overcome when deciding to send students back to school in person.
Children may be afraid of catching the virus or spreading it to others. This is especially true if they have had family members become severely ill from COVID.
Also, students may be teased or bullied when it comes two whether they are vaccinated or not.
The school may look and feel very different than it did before the pandemic.
The social distancing and safety measures may make some students feel like they are at an institution instead of a school. Having to adjust to a different environment can be a big mental health challenge.
Students may not be able to gather and socialize like before. Some students have said, if I can’t be with my friends, what’s the point of going to school?
Social interaction and connecting with others are great ways to help fight a variety of mental health challenges.
As a parent, you may feel helpless. Your children can face intense mental health struggles whether they go to school in person or virtually. What can you do?
Parents and students are far from helpless. They can follow recommended safety protocols to stay physically healthy.
There are several things you can do as a parent to help your kids stay mentally healthy too.
The anxiety and stress of these new situations can make children feel as if they don’t have control over what is going on.
One of the best ways to help your children build good mental health is to help them focus on things they can control.
Allow them to express their fears and anxieties openly. Then, work with them to understand they have things they can do to take control of their health and well-being.
They can choose to wear a mask, they can stay socially distant, and keep their hands clean.
Help them develop a feeling of positivity when it comes to their options to stay safe.
Have an open conversation, and encourage them to ask questions. Make sure you know the latest news. Try to keep your kids up to date without overwhelming them.
Do not talk at your children or tell them what they need to think.
Keep the conversation flowing openly, and try to answer as many of their questions as you can.
Routines give us predictability and a feeling of control. It doesn’t take a big routine with your whole day schedule out to help improve your child’s mental health.
It can be as simple as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
for both virtual and in-person learners it’s a good idea to create time blocks throughout the day.
For example, if your school day ends at 4 o’clock set aside time from 4:30 PM-6:30 PM for homework. Schedule time for both you and your children to unwind from 7 PM-9 PM.
Remember, it’s important to set aside time to relax and unwind. Downtime is important for parents as well as kids.
Don’t schedule every moment of the day.
If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your children.
When your kids struggling, you may feel bad making time to take care of yourself.
Think of your mental health as a cup. To take care of your kids, your cup needs to be full.
When you don’t take care of yourself you’re putting holes in your cup.
Eventually, your cup will be empty.