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Kids, parents need holiday break for mental health

As an elementary school counselor, I believe the holiday break couldn’t come at a better time. We have finished one of the most challenging semesters, thanks to all the issues related to COVID-19.

Since the pandemic began in early 2020, school counselors have noted students feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, relieved, worried, anxious and now thrilled for a break from the routine of a typical school day and night.

These young students are excellent observers of their world, but they aren’t always the best at interpreting their world. Especially with young children — and sometimes even teenagers — these misinterpretations can be noticed through behaviors.

In my school (Butler Lab School 55 in the Indianapolis Public Schools), we teach that behavior is a language. Behavior communicates something. Since the start of the pandemic, parents may have noticed an increase in adverse behaviors from their children. And parents may likely notice some of those behaviors manifest themselves over break.

But now is not the best time for parents to sit back and relax. Over the next few weeks, parents should pay close attention to the behaviors of their little ones who are too often unable to understand and / or verbally convey their emotions after months of classes restrained by COVID-19 protocols and other similar types of restrictions.

The best option for supporting the mental and emotional health of your child lies within being proactive. Set them (and you) up for success.

Here are some ways you could do that.

• Prepare them for the break, and re-entry. For my children and also for my students, I write social stories. Literature is such a powerful tool for children.

• Be curious about your children. If they are acting out, ask them what they need. At the beginning of each day, ask them what they are looking forward to. At the end of the day, ask them what their favorite part was. This communicates care and safety.

• Give boundaries. Children feel safest when they know what to expect. One example is to use timers when children are playing video games. This makes it very clear when it’s time to move on. This can help avoid arguments.

• Regulate yourself. If you aren’t regulated, you won’t be able to regulate your child. Take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, healthy eating and exercise.

• Give yourself time. Timeouts aren’t always for children. Sometimes we need to be removed from the situation so that we can calm ourselves down.

• Apologize as necessary. We must model for our kids (especially due to the pandemic) what we would expect of them. It is always appropriate to apologize to a child when you’ve done something wrong. This teaches them that no one is perfect and that even those that love them most in the world make mistakes. It also teaches them how to accept responsibility for their actions.

Parents need to be realistic about the next few months. Already, many K-12 school districts are making plans to return to virtual teaching in early January due to the fear of the coronavirus pandemic and the omicron variant. The next few weeks and months could be disruptive to the mental health of many youngsters who need the stability of a classroom routine.

By simply taking a few moments each day, parents will be able to gauge the mental health of young children by returning to class. By putting a few of these tips into play, parents will be able to prepare these youngsters to better cope with what they may face in the coming months.

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