Health and Well-Being
Health and Well-Being
How to Support Children’s Social, Emotional and Behavioral Health and Well-Being During the Start of the 2020-2021 School Year
FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS:
Since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in early 2020, students and families have experienced a tremendous amount of upheaval. Adults and children may be experiencing a range of emotions from excitement to stress, confusion, fear or anxiety during this time. The information on this website is intended to provide practical ideas and easy steps to help support child (and adult) well-being as a new school year begins.
- Model Resiliency and Healthy Responses. After the many changes that have taken place over the past several months, it is apparent that the coming months will not be easy to predict. While external factors and phenomena cannot be controlled by any one individual, each person can control his or her responses to upcoming situations - including the new school year. When adults care for themselves, they model healthy behaviors for children. Children watch and repeat how adults at home manage stress. As a result, it’s important for adults to cultivate their own physical, mental and emotional well-being. Let children know that whatever the plan may be going forward, they won’t face it alone and everyone is in this together.
- Keep Adult Conversations with Adults. As adults formulate plans for the upcoming school year, a range of emotions, good or bad, may occur. Some adults may feel stress related to issues like health, finances or school plans just to name a few. When processing uncertainties or even frustration about the scenarios at hand, do so in a way that limits a child’s exposure and models a healthy response.
- Have Frequent and Solution-Focused Communication with Other Caregivers. Make sure children see the adults in their lives as members of the same team. This team may include the child’s other parent, caregiver, teacher, coach or daycare provider. Keep open communication about what children are saying and doing; it may give insight to how they are feeling. When adults are working out any concerns or issues, they should do so away from children and use solution-focused skills. Monitor words, tone and body language exhibited in front of children.
- Model Safe Health Practices for School or Other Public Places. Practice routines like wearing a mask, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing in public. As children see their caregivers doing this, they are likely to adjust more easily when these precautions are practiced in school and other public places. Children are more likely to practice these health habits when they are away from home if they’ve already been practicing them when they are at home. For younger children, seeing masks on character images online or on stuffed animals may be helpful.
- Talk to Children about the Current Situation. Have age-appropriate conversations with children and be sure all adults in the household are using the same language to describe what is happening. Understand and stay up to date on the correct facts from medical and government resources. Share only developmentally appropriate facts with children. Focus on exhibiting calmness to avoid cultivating anxiety or distress in children.
- Check in with Children Often. Create opportunities for children to share what is on their minds by asking open ended questions or making statements that do not simply suggest a yes or no response. Examples include “tell me about your day” or “what are some questions you have about what is happening?” Listen attentively and show interest in what children have to say. For smaller children, make sure to sit or kneel on their level when talking with them.
- Limit Exposure. Be mindful of adult conversations or media coverage about what is happening. Limit children’s exposure to these as they could cause an increase in anxiety or distress. Children may not talk openly about what they overhear or see that causes them distress, so limiting the exposures, depending on their developmental age and maturity, is best. Remember that very young children are more likely to show their distress or fear by acting out because their capacity for expressing emotions and thoughts is limited.
- Let Them Play. Play is often referred to as a child’s language. Just like adults need to talk through difficult topics to process them, children need to play to process the difficult things in their lives. This can be true for younger and older children alike. Opportunities for preferred activities, especially with adults, can provide authentic chances for conversation and connection.
- Encourage Expressive Activities. Encourage imaginative and expressive activities that can help children share how they are feeling (examples include, shaping or molding clay, drawing, coloring, listening to or playing music, singing, dancing and journaling). This may allow children to process their emotions in safe and productive ways.
- Create a Structured Environment. Provide children with structure and routine. Have a daily schedule with general activities posted in the home. Smaller children may benefit from pictures rather than words in a schedule. Children do better and feel safer when they know what to expect next, whether is it homework, play, meal or school time.
- Create a “School Spot” and Time for Assigned Work. Whether a child is doing remote learning, a blended learning approach or homework at home, it will be important for them to have a consistent space and time to work. Create a comfortable area that allows for as much privacy and quiet as possible, but also where the child has access to help, whether that is from a parent or caregiver or from a teacher online. Be sure the child has the tools he or she needs to complete assignments and communicate with his or her school. Set expectations for a dedicated routine each day. Discuss clear boundaries about attempting to complete assignments without adult help and seek guidance from the child’s teacher about when he or she may or may not need assistance.
- Monitor Online Safety. Teach children responsible decision making when online. Ask them questions about what they are doing and check on this frequently to ensure they are practicing online safety.
- Give Children a Sense of Responsibility. Have a list of age appropriate chores. For example, a kindergarten student may be able to help clean up from dinner with the supervision of an adult, but a high school student may be able to prepare dinner one night a week. Talk with children about chores and come up with a plan together to complete them. Expecting children to help around the house is good for them, as well as helpful to the rest of the family! Setting expectations and showing children how to do chores can be helpful in allowing them to feel a sense of accomplishment for contributing to the household.
- Create Special Time. Parents and caregivers should set aside at least 10 minutes a day to focus on their child. More time is better. Actively listen to what he or she says and stay positive. If the child is younger, play with him or her during this time. Child-focused play has many benefits to child-adult relationships. Take time to help the child maintain friendships remotely (by phone) with relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) or friends.
- Spend Quality Time Together. Take a walk, play a board game or have dinner together. Read together – child to adult, and adult to child. Put away all technology. Take turns sharing something happy about each day. Cook or bake favorite foods together. Children can help with meal preparation and clean up.
- Show and Share Gratitude. Identify positive things, ideas or events and share these with children. Dedicate time daily to share statements of gratitude each day. This can be done on the way to school, at dinner or before bed. Keeping a gratitude journal may be helpful to both adults and older children.
- Stay Active. Encourage children to play, walk or hike outdoors and be sure get outside with them as well. If the weather does not allow for outdoor time, try yoga, having a dance party or watching online videos that encourage exercise or movement indoors.
- Maintain Healthy Eating and Sleep Habits. A nutritious, balanced diet can promote overall wellness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided online resources to encourage healthy nutrition. In addition, be sure children are getting enough sleep. Have the same nightly routine and bedtime on both weeknights and weekends to maintain consistency. The Centers for Disease Control has posted recommendations for how much sleep children should get each night.
- Focus on the Positive. Point out the “helpers” in the world and the good things they are doing. Stay age appropriate, limit details about potentially frightening situations and emphasize the good being done.
- Smile and laugh. Let children see the adults in their lives smile and laugh. Have fun with them. Not only can it feel contagious to smile when someone else does so, but it can also release endorphins, which are chemicals created by the body to relieve stress and pain and are associated with happiness.
- Remember, No One Can Do It All. As good as all the advice may seem, it is nearly impossible to do it all at once with perfection. It is important to take things one step at a time. No one is perfect, and that is okay! Take things one day at a time, learn from mistakes and adjust as needed. If things do not go as planned one day, start again fresh the next day and model a good attitude and problem-solving skills for children.
Potential Behavioral Health Needs
Children may experience increased stress during this time. Increased anxiety, inattention and a decrease in focus are some examples of typical stress responses. It is important for adults to monitor these responses closely to be sure they do not interfere with a child’s daily functioning. Talk to the child’s teacher to see what is happening at school or during remote lessons.
Below are some important notes about behavioral health.
- If the Child Currently Receives Behavioral Health Services. If the child is in therapy, contact his or her provider about options for teletherapy, in person therapy, or ideas of things to do at home to support his or her treatment goals.
- If the Child Takes Medication for Behavioral Health. If the child is prescribed any medication for behavioral health, consult with his or her physician and follow medical recommendations. Remember that medications take time to adjust to and build up in bodies, so if a child has stopped medication during the summer, it is essential to plan for the transition back to school.
- If the Child Shows Safety Concerns. If the child is demonstrating risky behaviors (self-harming behavior, threats to self or others, drug or alcohol use, harming animals or smaller children), create a plan to provide consistent supervision. If the child has a mental health provider, follow-up with the provider immediately. If there is an immediate safety concern, contact local police, a local hospital, 911 or crisis response team.
Where to Get Help
Following are key resources:
Questions about COVID-19?
Last Modified: 8/17/2020 9:28:30 AM