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COVID-19: Back-to-school during pandemic means more stress for kids, parents, CMHA says

There are a number of services available for those struggling
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With less than a month left before Ontario students file back into school, many students may be feeling anxiety about returning to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meredith Gardner and Brooke Young serve as Directors of Service for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Waterloo-Wellington.

Speaking on the Mike Farwell Show on 570 NEWS on Tuesday, Gardner and Young addressed several strategies that may help parents address back-to-school anxiety - including making time for honest and open conversations about a child's concerns, and how to best work together to solve any problems that may arise together.

"Give them space to share some of their worries - and know that those worries are probably not going to go away overnight. I think a lot of kids are just going to need the opportunity to get back in and see what it looks like."

Young encouraged parents to have a conversation about what the new school year will look like - with some basic practice on how to socially distance while engaging with a peer. She also mentioned that it's great to instruct children on how to address breaches in physical distancing, as well as how to tolerate wearing masks for a long period of time.

While the back to school experience may be more difficult for some than others, Gardner reminded parents that kids are more resilient than we may take them for. For those that do struggle with the transition, Gardner encouraged parents to keep in close communication with teachers, principals and child youth workers in school for problem solving strategies.

Gardner also said that while it's important as an adult to stay in touch with what's happening locally and in the global community regarding pandemic response, parents should be conscious of what kids are seeing and hearing.

"Kids don't always need to hear the details" said Gardner. "It can inadvertently kind of contribute to their anxiety and their worry, so just pay attention to those things - maybe save the news for after they go to bed".

Lastly, both Gardner and Young said that this is a time for parents to be checking in on their own mental health as well. Social isolation, increased stress from balancing work life with personal and managing small children can all lead to increased stress levels for adults.

"This is a time to practice good habits (…) to be able to do a mental health check-in. Where are you struggling, where do you have success; what are the strategies you're using right now, and how could you better practice those?"

Young said it's important for parents to check in with their primary care provider to get advice on where to seek mental health supports. She also encouraged parents to ask employers for information on COVID-19 guidelines, and to give themselves and coworkers some generosity and leeway as they return to the workplace.

"We're all adjusting to this - all at the same time. It's an interesting kind of shared experience. While it is shared, it will be different for all of us" said Young. "Check in with on your friends, check in on other parents who might be struggling. Even just sharing those struggles together can lead a reduced sense of isolation."

The Canadian Mental Health Association has resources on mental health and wellness, as well as a variety of programs to support a diverse range of needs. If you or someone you know needs assistance, visit www.cmha.ca.

- KitchenerToday/Rogers Media

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