We cannot deny that the past year and a half has been hard on all of us. Staying home for the majority of the day and week is not normal; our bodies were wired for socialization, to breathe some fresh air, and to get some sunlight.
We also can’t deny that our children have experienced some of the worst consequences of the pandemic. They have had to deal with remote learning, which experts say can harm children in more ways than one. Many kids were already struggling with a mental illness or disorder even before the global health crisis began, and COVID-19 exacerbated most if not all of these cases.
And now that most schools are already opening up this fall semester, our kids have to adjust to a new change once again. Now that schools across the United States are transitioning back to face-to-face classes, here are some pointers to help your child or ward with a mental illness deal with the change.
Keep things in perspective
Remember that no matter your child’s diagnosis, whether it’s a mood disorder, a learning disability, or a mental illness, it’s not insurmountable as long as their doctor says it’s optimal for them to attend regular school. Our kids usually take their cues from us; they panic when we panic, they feel fear when we’re fearful, and they can also stay calm when we’re at the pinnacle of preparedness. Take charge of the situation by keeping things in perspective; don’t be hopeless, and always be the first to encourage your child and remind them that it will all be OK and that you have their back every step of the way.
Be ready for instances of bullying
If your child’s disorder or disability is more obvious, you need to be prepared for kids at school who may not understand them. This may include instances of bullying or exclusion. What you can do is to communicate well with your kid’s teachers so that they know the breadth and depth of the condition so that they can help shield and protect your kid. They can also talk to the other students in a way that won’t humiliate and exclude your child.
Consider consulting a disability attorney to understand the school’s responsibility to protect your child from instances of bullying and what legal recourse you have should your kid experience any form of discrimination or mistreatment while in the institution.
These legal professionals can also help you apply for disability benefits, should you decide to pull your child out of school to get them to attend a more specialized institution or switch to homeschooling instead.
Expect some forgetfulness and disorganization
We have just had a tough year. We can’t expect our kids to be perfect on their first semester back, especially if they spent most of their time in front of a screen or device. What we can expect, however, is a level of disorientation or a lack of organization while they navigate the first few weeks of face-to-face classes.
This is especially true if they have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and other learning disabilities like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. These disorders do not mean they are not smart or capable; it just means you will need to work together to employ strategies to help them be the best they can be at school and that those strategies might be different from those that their classmates use.
Abide by evidence-based programs that support emotional and support learning
It takes a village to raise a child, and this mantra is even more true during a time like 2021. Now more than ever, parents need to rely on teachers, pediatricians, therapists, and other child specialists to help them find the best ways to help their kids. Thankfully, there are so many evidence-based programs, strategies, and even treatment plans developed to help children battling mental disorders and other disabilities as they navigate school.
Mental Health America (MHA) recommends programs like Positive Action Program, Pax Good Behavior Game, and the Raising Healthy Children Program. These programs were created to facilitate children’s emotional and social learning to help them achieve the most positive outcomes and best possible results later in life.
The Bottom Line
With the right support and encouragement, there’s no reason our children can’t thrive in the new school year, even those that have more challenges than others. Give them the help that they need, seek support from experts, and love them unconditionally—and you’re already on the right path in guiding them.