7 Back-to-School Mental Health Tips

August 26, 2022

Boston, Mass.–With parents, students and educators getting ready for a year-three pandemic school year, Housman Institute is providing tips to help parents, students and educators manage their mental health and cope with increased stress and anxiety.

America’s youth is facing a mental health crisis, and our youngest children, dubbed the “COVID Generation,” know nothing other than this pandemic world, which comes with increased isolation, stress, and lack of key peer-to-peer social interactions necessary for development.

When children’s brains are cluttered with heightened emotions or unmanaged stress and anxiety, thinking is impaired and learning is negatively impacted. Unregulated emotions hijack children’s and adults’ ability to focus, concentrate, take in information, and grasp new concepts–preventing access to important executive functioning skills that are necessary for learning. 

“Back-to-school time can be exciting, but it often comes with increased stress and anxiety for children, parents and educators,” said Dr. Donna Housman, Founder of Housman Institute. “Having the skills to declutter our brains by being aware of, managing and regulating our emotions to effectively deal with stress and anxiety is foundational to learning. Emotions are a part of who we all are, and we can all learn to become the boss of our own emotions, no matter how big or how small. ”

In addition to basic healthy routines, such as consistent bedtimes and nutritious meals, Dr. Housman recommends the following tips for supporting children’s and caregivers’ mental health:

  1. Before you can help children, you must first learn how to help yourself cope with your own stress and emotions – the oxygen mask rule. As key socializers for children, before we can help children regulate their emotions, we need to lay these same foundations for ourselves. Children learn by observation, imitation, and how we model, guide, and respond to them and to others.
  2. Use a calm demeanor, such as calming words and tone of voice, and provide reassurance and understanding. If a child is in distress and overwhelmed by their intense emotions, responding with a calm voice, measured tempo, and focused manner helps bring the child down from a heightened dysregulated state.
  3. Watch for changes in behavior. Children’s emotions are typically expressed in their behavior, and changes ranging from increased aggressive, oppositional behavior to heightened withdrawal, anxiety and regression can indicate your child is struggling emotionally. 
  4. Support them in sharing what they are feeling either verbally or with a visual tool. Then guide them in connecting their feelings to a cause and solutions by asking open-ended “what” vs “why” questions, such as “What made you feel this way?” and “What could make you feel better?” Why questions can leave a child feeling judged.
  5. Share your own feelings as a way of normalizing the sharing of emotions. Doing so gives permission for children to do the same and validates their feelings.
  6. Listen with empathic understanding, encouraging children to open up without the worry of being judged or criticized.
  7. If you feel like you or your child needs additional support, early intervention is available for all children up to 3, and other resources are available for older children.

Through responsive relationships, adults can teach children from the beginning that their emotions do not need to overwhelm them. Before a child can learn, they must first be able to identify and manage their emotions.

About Housman Institute

Founded by Dr. Donna Housman, Ed.D, Housman Institute is an early childhood teacher training, research, and advocacy organization that seeks to provide the building blocks of emotional intelligence for lifelong learning and success.

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