Positive Parenting: Managing mental health as they return to school

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Positive Parenting: Managing mental health as they return to school

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This article is the fourth in a series that focuses on your child’s transition back to school. The series will run throughout August and into September. Go to www.loveparenting.ie to read earlier articles in the series and to access online supports and resources relating to your child’s return to school.

A virus has struck in Kildare, Ireland and the world. As a result, our children and young people are faced with quite an unusual situation for their return to school.

There is a lot of uncertainty around the return and there are potentially higher levels of anxiety or worry for children and young people about this. The situation is anxiety-provoking for us as adults, so of course our children are going to have similar feelings.

Anxiety is a natural response to what we are going through as a nation. It’s important to remember that anxiety serves a purpose. This emotion exists in order to protect us from danger.

That is not a bad thing in the context of returning to school as it will help children and young people to maintain caution and to respect themselves and others in relation to guidelines of social distancing and school rules. I have been amazed by the level of responsibility taken by young people in Ireland. It feels like as many young people as adults (if not more) in Kildare are wearing masks and are very conscientious and respectful of others.

If your young person is showing signs of anxiety, then the first step in supporting them is to listen. When you listen then you can begin to understand.

When you start to understand then you can do something about it together. Ask them how they are feeling. Use open-ended questions (examples: “how are you feeling about going back to school?” or “What do you think of the social restriction rules?”). Don’t jump in with the answers (example: “you’re fine ya?”) or with judgements (example: “don’t worry about that”).

Find space in the day where they’ll be more likely to talk openly, perhaps when driving in the car or on a walk, and give them the space to talk through their thoughts and feelings.

If you notice them finding it difficult to find the words to express themselves or if they are feeling uncomfortable talking about it then it might be helpful to offer some suggestions to see what they might connect with (example: “it seems like a lot of people are a bit scared about returning to school, how is it for you?”).

If through the course of your discussion the young person expresses feelings of fear or anxiety then it is worth you both talking this through.

Aspects that may be helpful to address include 1) both of you getting an understanding of your school’s protocols, 2) reassuring your young person of the minimal likelihood of them personally being seriously affected by the virus and 3) acknowledging that we are all in this together as a society (including you, your young person, their peers and their school).

We are all doing what we can to be safe and respectful of each other’s needs and we have a collective responsibility in that.

Young people’s mental health is supported by having One Good Adult in their lives. They need you to be that.

That means 1) you being comfortable expressing your feelings and promoting that we all have mental health, 2) we are all going through these big changes together, 3) it’s good to talk about this together and 4) you as an adult will be a consistent source of listening, calmness and support for them. Go to www.jigsawonline.ie/parents-and -guardians for information on how you can support young people’s mental health.

This article was contributed by Dr. Cian Aherne, Clinical Psychologist & Clinical Manager with Jigsaw Limerick. Jigsaw are a member of Parenting Limerick, a network of parenting and family support organisations. For more information on this and other topics go to www.loveparenting.ie.