Despite the struggles of home-schooling coming to an end, the return to school has been far from easy for many students. Primary school children — between 4 and 10 in particular — have been hit hardest by the pandemic, with studies showing that they are now finding the return to ‘normality’ overwhelming and stressful. In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re giving you tips on how to look after your little one’s mental health now that school is back.
Be aware of the signs
Being aware of the telltale signs of declining mental health is essential for you to help your child deal with any issues they face. It’s important to remember that kids deal with the same things that adults do — they get frustrated, stressed, anxious and embarrassed just like you. Listed below are some of the key signs that your child might be struggling with something whether inside or outside school:
- Drastic mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent sadness
- Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
- Hurting oneself or talking about hurting others
- Extreme irritability or outbursts
It’s important to note here that these signs should be viewed with caution. If your child is moody one day out of the week and skips a meal, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are struggling with their mental health. Always seek professional and/or medical advice before diagnosing or treating your child.
Help your child express how they feel
Younger children especially may find it difficult to voice their feelings. Whether they are unsure how to properly express themselves, or find it difficult to determine certain emotions, helping your child express how they’re feeling is a huge step in the right direction towards supporting their mental wellbeing. One of the best ways to show your child it’s safe and acceptable to express their feelings is by being a role model. Your child is constantly watching, modelling and mirroring your behaviour as they grow. Showing your child how you deal with certain emotions can encourage them to express themselves to both you and others they trust. Promote mindfulness and show them how to use their breath to calm themselves down. By bringing attention to how they’re feeling and acknowledging emotions, you can better help them cope, relax and calm down.
Let them express their emotions via creative outlets. Sometimes words just don’t cut it. Instead of talking about how they’re feeling or asking why they’re in a bad mood, encourage your child to sit down and get creative as a therapeutic way of dealing with troubling feelings. Provide them with a selection of craft materials, pens, paper, paint etc. and let them draw how they’re feeling, or even draw how they think that feeling might look like. This can help them visualise their feelings and process any distressing emotions.
Use a mental health check-up toolkit
Thanks to the internet there are a whole host of free resources developed to help us monitor and look after our mental health. Try using a mental health checkup toolkit to help your child process and check in on their emotions. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. The following exercises can help you and your child cope with emotions like worry, stress and anxiety, allowing them to adapt to situations that may seem out of their control.
- Distraction Tool
Using fun activities that focus attention on other things in an active way — activities will help give your child other things to think about instead of dwelling on things that are bothering them. This can be anything from playing a musical instrument, listening to music, playing a game, talking with friends/pets or doing a craft.
- Relaxation Tool
Encourage your child to slow their body down. This will in turn help calm their brain and relax their body. Get them to lie or sit down and take 5 slow deep breaths, tightening and then releasing their muscles; or suggest they close their eyes and imagine being somewhere peaceful like the beach or woods.
- Thinking Tool
Getting your child to notice the positive aspects of a situation can help develop a pattern of optimistic thinking. This in turn can help them change how they are feeling and help them return more easily to a positive way of thinking throughout their lives.
Try asking them “what are the good things that could happen?” Alternatively, encourage them to check in on themselves and ask why certain thoughts aren’t helpful and how they might be able to see things differently.
- Action Tool
By keeping a schedule and carrying out everyday activities your child is more likely to be healthy in both mind and body. A holistic approach to mental health should always be observed. Like it or not how, we feel about ourselves and our bodies can have a huge impact on our mental health. Try to make sure your child keeps a regular sleep schedule, drinks plenty of water, eats nutritious meals and exercises regularly — all this can have a positive influence on mental wellbeing.
Make sure they have the right kind of support at school
Whilst there may be various reasons for your child’s declining mental health, it could be something as simple as making sure they are getting the right academic support at school. More often than not, underperforming in the classroom and lagging behind peers can lead to feelings of helplessness and stress. If your child mentions a specific subject they are struggling with, consider providing them with additional tuition to help them gain confidence in their ability in the classroom.
Written by Elise Pearce
Elise is the Head of Content at Tutor House. A lover of all things creative, she studied History of Art at St. Andrews enjoys running and painting in her spare time. At home, when she’s not busy chasing after her two Labradoodles, Flossy and Rupert, you’ll catch her doing handstands on her yoga mat.