How to Help Kids Cope With COVID and Back to School Stress

In a year like none other, going back to school—usually a well-established, streamlined process marked by ordered checklists and cheerful first-day photos—has been a long and chaotic road. Some children have had to learn to acclimate to virtual classes, facing the challenge of staying focused without the reprieve of social time with friends. Others yet are back in the classroom, trying to keep up with COVID-19 precautions and sensing troubling anxiety in the adults they rely on most.

This World Mental Health Day, taking place on October 10th, is the perfect time to check in with your kids about how they're handling this tumultuous time. The awareness event was created by the World Health Organization and is celebrated annually through mental health outreach and advocacy opportunities. Establishing a proactive attitude toward good mental health in your home can help your kids to better identify their own emotions, and can create an environment in which they feel comfortable opening up.

How to Spot Signs of Childhood Stress

While most stress is normal, and can even be a positive part of new experiences, kids who are having a hard time coping with "normal" stressors like loss or a serious world event like COVID-19 may display external signs of stress, which parents should be aware of. It's also important to note that these signs can be an indication of toxic stress, which can occur when a child is facing instability, abuse, poverty, or neglect.

  • Seeming excessively sad, nervous or irritable.
  • Changes in eating, sleeping and social patterns, including substance abuse.
  • Lack of focus, loss of interest, unexplained pain, decline in academic/sports performance.

Helping Them Overcome

Let's face it—it's a rough time for everyone. Connecting with your kids and being aware of what's going on in their lives can play a tremendous role in helping them cope.

  • Focus on your child's day-to-day behavior, making it easier to spot changes. Check in regularly, offering lots of love and reassurance.
  • Figure out what stresses them out, and if you have the power to reduce their triggers, do so.
  • Encourage regular expression of emotions, and normalize reaching out to other parents, teachers and professionals for help.

To find out more about World Mental Health Day, visit the campaign's website.

Neve Spicer is a mother of three, breastfeeding advocate, and chief editor at the website We The Parents, where a community of experts—mothers and fathers—share pragmatic, science-based advice and support for parents and professionals alike. Neve is a contributor to international publications such as NPN Parents, ...

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