Parents should be open about back-to-school uncertainties: expert

Mothers with children under the age of six make up the majority of the exodus from the workforce amid the pandemic, while more men are returning to work. Getty

With kids heading back to school in only a few days’ time, one expert suggests parents shouldn’t try to hide their own anxieties.

Carolyn Klassen with Conexus Counselling says everyone is making the best decisions they can right now, and it’s important to be open with kids about what we know and what we don’t.

“Part of what children benefit from is watching us go through hard times and seeing us being able to move through those difficult times because we’re working at it,” Klassen says.

“I think to pretend that it’s not bothering us, kids are smart enough to see through that.”

But that shouldn’t lead to panic. Klassen suggests parents learn to manage their anxieties and be frank with kids about some of the uncertainties.

“I think the challenge is to say, ‘yes, I’m a little nervous about this too and we’re going to have to keep doing all the research and follow the instructions and … do the best we can, and when we feel anxiety this is what we do to take care of it,'” Klassen says.

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All this as Kids Help Phone tells Global News nearly eight in every 10 children who call their number lately say returning to school is a major stressor.

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“It’s definitely a topic that’s on people’s minds and people are reaching out to us in droves about back-to-school,” says Tamar Brannigan, community manager with Kids Help Phone.

“One of the things we like to remind folks about is that they’re not alone. Even when they’re feeling isolated they do have people they can reach out to 24/7 and that they’re not the only ones going through it.”

Anxiety and isolation have slowly become two of the major issues children are coping with, according to Brannigan, but that’s not all.

“Things like eating and body image, that has shot up in terms of things that young people are worried about,” Brannigan says.

“Abuse in the home, substance use and abuse, those are major topics that have increased as people have lost some of their coping mechanisms and have kind of been stuck in their house as they physically distance.”

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Klassen says parents need to take extra care of themselves since kids are looking for cues about how they’re supposed to respond amid such uncertain times.

“I think children at an unconscious level, they pick up on the heart rate of a parent, they absolutely dial into how anxious a parent is,” Klassen says.

“And I think that gives a parent a responsibility to say ‘what can I do to take care of myself so I can be my best self so that my child has the best version of me possible?”

The first step for anyone, Klassen says, is taking stock of what exactly is making them nervous.

“When we can our feelings and name our fears we are better able to handle them and they become less frightening.”

Kids Help Phone is a 24-hour counselling service for youth across Canada, which can be reached by calling 1-800-668-6868 or texting 686868.

Click to play video: 'Breaking the stigma around mental health and seeking help'
Breaking the stigma around mental health and seeking help

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