Vancouver, BC: The start of the new school year, although exciting for many children, can often present challenges for families and an upswing in anxiety.
Young children being introduced to school for the first time can experience separation anxiety while older children may be worried about meeting academic expectations, navigating peer groups and generally readjusting to a regular routine again after the relative freedom of the summer holidays.
Some anxiety is a normal response and most kids experience mild back-to-school uneasiness that gradually fades once they meet their teacher and settle in to class and a regular routine. This year, students, parents and teachers are facing significant additional back-to-school stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and a dramatically altered reality where social distancing and personal protection is key to stemming the tide of the coronavirus.
The Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division (CMHA BC) offers a number of free, evidence-based wellness programs which address anxiety and behaviour challenges in children aged three to 12 as well as programs based on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for youth and adults experiencing mild to moderate anxiety and/or depression. All of these programs are easily accessible, free and available online or over the phone.
“Navigating COVID-19 and school is a lot to process for adults, let alone young children, especially when we as a society have also been wrangling with the mental health impact of social isolation and disrupted routines since March,” says Jonny Morris, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division.
“Now, more than ever, safeguarding our mental health and that of our children is of the utmost importance so we can minimize the negative mental health impact of this pandemic on their well-being.”
The public health emergency measures for the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted all children and families. While the full extent of consequences from pandemic-related stress and anxiety has not yet been realized, existing research shows that excessive or prolonged exposure to stress in childhood and adolescence is harmful to healthy childhood development. Learning to effectively manage stress and uncertainty and build resiliency now will help families stay mentally well and better able to adapt to future changes.
CMHA BC offers the following programs for adults and children preparing for the academic year ahead:
Confident Parents: Thriving Kids – Behaviour Program
Through a series of 6 to 14 weekly coaching sessions, along with exercises and workbooks, trained coaches work with parents and caregivers by phone to learn effective skills and techniques that support social skills and cooperation in their child. These techniques are proven to prevent, reduce and reverse the development of mild to moderate behaviour problems. You can learn more about this free program at www.confidentparents.ca
Confident Parents: Thriving Kids – Anxiety Program
Confident Parents: Thriving Kids – Anxiety Program is a ‘made in BC model’ based on the best available evidence for supporting families to effectively reduce various kinds of mild to moderate anxiety in their children. Delivered through videos and supported by scheduled telephone coaching sessions, the approach focuses on building skills and strategies that parents can use with their child and family at home and in community settings. Find out more about how this free program can help you and your child at www.confidentparents.ca
BounceBack® – Adults and Youth
BounceBack® is a free skill-building program designed to help adults and youth 15+ manage low mood, mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress or worry. Delivered online in a self-managed format or over the phone with a coach, you will get access to tools that will support you on your path to mental wellness. It’s free and there are no waitlists so participants can start straight away. For more information and details on how to register go to www.bouncebackbc.ca
About the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
CMHA is Canada’s most established mental health charity and the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health. CMHA helps people access the resources they need to maintain and improve mental health, build resilience, and support recovery from mental illness. Each year in BC alone, CMHA serves more than 100,000 people all across the province. For mental health and substance use information and resources visit www.staging.cmha-bc.flywheelsites.com
Communications Coordinator – Media, CMHA BC Division
P: 604-688-3234 ext. 6326
E: lorna.allen @ staging.cmha-bc.flywheelsites.com
Back to school tips for parents during the COVID-19 pandemic
Tip #1: Remember that Anxiety can be a False Alarm
Talk to your kids about how our bodies have an alarm system called anxiety: it alerts us to danger by making us feel afraid and getting us ready to escape when we need to. But sometimes our bodies give off a false alarm even when we are safe, like when we feel anxious about COVID-19 infection even though we follow the guidance of public health officials. Set aside some time when your child is calm to talk to them about false alarms and how you can support them to face their fears when their alarm is going off.
Tip #2: Show them How to Cope
Kids learn a lot from parents, including how to deal with stress and uncertainty. If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed about the pandemic or the burdens faced by you and your family, recruit the help of family and friends to talk it through. Try to find outdoor activities you can do together with your child, and give yourself permission to recharge your batteries through activities you enjoy alone. Of course, be sure to reach out to your family doctor or a mental health professional to keep your own mental health fine-tuned as well.
Tip #3: Be Brave by Example
The pandemic has made so much uncertain: school, work, the economy, and the health of those we care about. Not knowing the answers can make parents and kids worry alike. While sometimes useful, worry often leads to more worry and can set off a cascade of anxiety. Instead of feeding in to worry, parents can talk to their children about how scary not knowing can be and how they plan to face the future with bravery. For example, talk to your child about a big sports competition they were nervous about (but won), or about the challenges you faced when you first became a parent (but overcame). Although these examples are different in many ways from the pandemic, they still show kids how you can be afraid of uncertainty and face it with bravery.
Tips by Dr. Carlton Duff, R. Psych #2279, Clinical Lead, Confident Parents, Thriving Kids: Anxiety Program
Tips for parents with children with behaviour problems
Tip #1: Recognize your own “hot-button” issues regarding return to school
Rather than ignoring big emotions or reacting to them with our own escalation use techniques such as taking deep breaths so that you can respond to your child rather than react.
Take a few seconds to pause whatever you are doing, use the STOP acronym to remember and show children how to regulate.
S – stop whatever you are doing
T- take a breath (or 3 deep breaths)
O – observe what is happening
P – proceed with what you were doing
Tip #2: Use encouragement and small rewards for behaviour
Tell your child what you want them to do. Be specific and clear, using positive language rather than telling them what not to do. Use the when-then principle. For example, “when you complete 3 classes then we will do some baking.”
Tip #3: Break down overwhelming tasks into small achievable steps
Parents influence children’s school success by helping them develop and use organizing strategies to complete the many steps involved in safety measures and academic routines.
Any step can be a stumbling block for a child. When a step is too big, parents help by identifying stumbling blocks, breaking them down into small achievable steps, and encouraging progress with incentives. Daily academic routines help children accomplish long-term academic goals.
Tip #4: Recognize your own limits and take time to look after yourself
We are living through highly unusual times, it is normal to feel tired and unmotivated at times. School work is important and so are you. Be mindful of your capacity and show yourself kindness and compassion.
You are not alone. Do things that energize you even when they feel like work: exercising or preparing healthy foods. Reach out for help to friends and family as well professionals when needed.
Tips by Mags Jankowiak, Clinical Lead, Confident Parents, Thriving Kids: Behaviour Program