Over the past year, COVID has taken a toll on mental health. School is an integral part of child and teen’s development and mental health, and up until recently, half of U.S. students had been attending school virtually. As a result, many kids have experienced isolation, delayed development, lower self-esteem and self-confidence, and new levels of fear around connections.
A year ago, many parents tried to help their kids adjust to the sudden loss of “normal.” Now, parents are trying to help their kids adjust to a slowly evolving “new normal.” These adjustments can impact a child’s development and mental health, which isn’t necessarily detrimental but is something that parents should consider when guiding their kids to positive social-emotional learning, including connections and returning to school.
Helping Kids Adjust to an Evolving, New Normal
- Understand your child’s perspective – While you may think you understand what your child or teen is feeling or going through, it’s best to ask versus assume. Take opportunities to ask open-ended questions that will enable you to have a dialogue with your child to learn their point-of-view. For older kids and teens, getting out of the house and going for a car ride can be a great way to start a conversation.
- Teach self-compassion – Self-compassion is an important concept that we don’t hear a lot about and one that most of us don’t practice enough. Both kids and adults need self-compassion, especially now. The first step to having self-compassion is by accepting your thoughts and feelings without shame or guilt. If your child has been feeling lonely, upset, or even confused about their feelings, let them know that it’s ok to feel this way. These feelings do not need to define them.
- Try role-playing – It can be helpful to have them role-play specific worries or concerns that they may have regarding situations that they may encounter.
- Encourage connections – Kids need social interaction with others to thrive and develop. Help your kids find ways to reconnect with old friendships or to establish new relationships within their school and community.
- Find reasons to praise your kids – As a result of the pandemic, many kids have struggled this past year with low or failing grades, moodiness, or an “I don’t care attitude.” Sometimes, parents get so focused on disciplining or trying to help their kids turn things around that they forget to acknowledge why they’re behaving the way they are. While you shouldn’t condone or ignore your child’s negative behavior, you can let them know that you love them, acknowledge that it’s a hard time, and commend them for getting through this past year.
Real Thoughts from Real Teens
Here are a few thoughts on returning to in-person school, post-COVID, from teens that I recently interviewed. It’s important to note that these thoughts do not represent the thoughts of all teens. Parents should talk to their teens, ask questions, and empathize so that they can understand their teen’s feelings.
- “I sometimes feel lonely and miss my friends, but I also like virtual school. If things could be back like they were before COVID, then I’d want to go back to school. But now, we have to wear masks, go hybrid, and not see friends because some of them will stay virtual, and not everyone going hybrid will go at the same time. It makes me want to stay virtual.” – Middle school female with a few friends that she’s stayed in touch with through text and a couple of in-person encounters over the past year.
- “I’m happy that school is finally hybrid. I know that it’s different than what it was before COVID, but it also feels more normal than it has all year.” – Middle school female with some friends who she’s seen over the past year.
- “I used to get bullied at school. Now I feel like kids won’t be able to bully me. It’s the first time that I haven’t dreaded going back to school. In a way, I finally feel protected.” – Middle school male who had been bullied at school
Regardless of How Your Child Feels, Let Her Know That She’s Not Alone
While no two people have identical circumstances, it’s important to remind your child that she’s not alone, regardless of how she’s feeling. Let your child know that you care and understand. You can help guide your child by showing kindness, teaching her to be flexible, and not being too hard on herself or others.