Mayo Clinic Health System encouraging the four Be’s for back-to-school mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused much stress and uncertainty for students, parents, teachers and staff.

All of our lives have changed so much the past few months, including how we interact with one another and so many of our routines,” says Lisa Hardesty, psychologist, Mayo Clinic Health System. “As school begins this fall, parents and kids may be experiencing anxiety and other emotions because school plays such a big role academically, socially and emotionally for children.

To work on a healthy mindset for this school year, it may help to actively focus on these 4 Be’s:

  • Be flexible.
    Stay open to the possibility that the format of schooling might change over the course of the year.
  • Be optimistic.
    Maintain a
    curious and positive attitude about finding and using new ways to learn.
  • Be supportive.
    Contribute to keeping the learning environment as safe as possible by practicing social distancing, masking and proper hand hygiene.
  • Be kind.
    Be patient with each other as everyone works toward a common goal of ending the pandemic.

As schools determine their approaches, students will need varying behavioral health support based on their age and the class format.

For in-person schooling

Elementary school students may not fully understand why all the health and safety practices are happening.

Parents should model safe practices for their kids, including handwashing and wearing a mask,” says Dr. Hardesty. “They should also do their best to be calm and comforting to their children, especially when answering questions about an uncertain future. Help young children find the words to express what they are feeling.”

Middle school, high school and college students may find their emotions varying between excitement and anxiety. Parents should acknowledge the myriad of emotions that students may be feeling. Let them know that it’s OK to feel uneasy during these times.

For remote schooling

For students of all ages, schools provide structure and socialization. While it still is important to have structure if the school day is online, it is OK to have some flexibility with the schedule, especially for younger children.

Many children will adapt to a virtual learning format given their experience of growing up in a world filled with technology, but some may struggle with keeping up with homework, organizing tasks and being able to stay focused for extended periods of time. Parents can assist children in developing unique ways to organize and remain focused throughout the day.

Feelings of isolation and being disconnected from peer groups are common concerns affecting students attending school online. While virtual classes can be set up to enhance group discussions and connections, it is just as important to encourage and plan ways to socialize with friends in a safe manner outside of school-related activities.

For hybrid schooling

Learning formats that stagger in-person school days or alternate start times, for example, are being proposed by some schools. Changes in daily routines can be a challenge for children and adults.

One simple but effective tip: Post a master daily schedule in a common area of the home such as the kitchen to keep everyone on track on a day-to-day basis. This can help provide feedback on which learning formats are working well and identify those that can be improved.

Regardless of the learning format for fall, it’s common and OK to feel anxious, irritable or to feel a sense of sadness,” says Dr. Hardesty. “Maintain a healthy routine, relax and practice mindfulness, and seek mental health help from a professional when needed.”