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How to support kids' emotions during back-to-school season this year

More than ever, kids need social and emotional support as the school year begins.

back to school in pandemic supporting children's mental health

Starting a new school year can be stressful at the best of times, let alone months into a global pandemic. Parents and teachers alike have many worries regarding safety, learning loss and how children will adjust to the new normal.

It is important to note that the impact of this experience on children's mental health will likely outweigh any potential educational gap, so when schools ultimately do return, children must be eased back into classrooms with plenty of connection, play and emotional support built into the school day.

The CDC has released recommendations for schools to reopen with guidelines on social distancing, teachers and/or students wearing masks, temperature checks, decreased recess, physical barriers and alternate schedules to reduce classroom sizes. Some parents worry that school will look more like a prison than a learning environment when their children do return, which begs the question: How will COVID-19 impact the long term mental health of young children?

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Here's how schools and parents can think about supporting children's mental and emotional health as the school year begins during the pandemic.


While schools are crucial for teaching academics, they play an equally essential role in supporting children's social and emotional learning (SEL). Per decades of research, it is the development of these interpersonal skills that assist our children's brain development for a lifetime of happiness and success. It is more important than ever to recognize and value what SEL brings to children, not only in support of the stresses they may be facing currently but for the positive impact it is shown to have on children's future health and wellbeing.

One long-time early childhood educator shares, "I can't begin to imagine the stress and fear we will be instilling in our children in telling them they can't get near others, play with their friends, work on projects together or eat their lunches together." This same educator, who has worked in a public school system for over ten years where more than 90% of students qualify for the subsidized lunch program, wants the policymakers in charge of reopening to remember that a large percentage of children returning to school this fall may have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 in a number of potentially traumatic ways:

  • Higher levels of parental stress and/or disrupted family routines.
  • The passing of a loved one from the virus.
  • Poverty due to parental job loss.
  • Prolonged periods of not being able to see some family members.
  • Not being able to visit playgrounds or enjoy playdates.

"The COVID-19 pandemic certainly is an unusual, unexpected event that is causing many to worry and even panic," says Adam D. Brown, PsyD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone and member of its Child Study Center. "Our experience can vary greatly, based on not only different levels of exposure but also on what is going on around the child. We need to look at what specific emotional and behavioral reactions might indicate traumatic stress as the current stressors are ongoing," Dr. Brown adds.

Children's reactions following a traumatic event will vary depending on their age, developmental level, degree of social support, and coping skills, among other factors. Some of these include:

  • Unwanted thoughts or images: Children may replay certain thoughts or images in their mind or have an increase in nightmares.
  • Unpleasant feelings: Some children experience an array of unpleasant feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, irritability, anger, or numbness. Others may become overwhelmed by their feelings and regress. Some may demonstrate increased anxiety or clinginess, especially when separated from a caregiver.
  • Difficulty with attention: Some children may experience difficulty concentrating on schoolwork and activities, seem forgetful, or like they are daydreaming.
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms: Some children may startle more easily or feel that there is a threat present, even if there isn't. Additionally, they may have an increase in stomachaches, headaches or other bodily complaints, or a change in appetite or sleep habits.

According to the authors of a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, because most mental health disorders begin in childhood, it is essential that any mental health issues be identified early and treated. Left untreated, they can lead to long-term health and emotional problems. Children are still forming their personalities and wiring their brains for life skills. To underestimate the effects of this pandemic on their developing brain would be a misstep.

It may seem counterintuitive to put a "pause" on academics, however, research indicates that SEL practices boost academic success, decrease disruptive behavior, and reduce emotional distress in the long-term. While trauma-informed practices were widely used before the pandemic, they're likely to be even more integral as students process the effects of the past several months.

Many parents and educators agree that relationships must come before content. "If you're not addressing the trauma, and children are distracted, checked out and falling increasingly behind, even the best curriculum won't matter," explained one educator. "It is important to remember that traumatic life experiences can sometimes emerge as challenging behaviors. Fear can look like aggression—flight, freeze, or fight. The trauma must be a priority."

As parents, here are a few ways we can support the mental health of our children during this time of great uncertainty for many:

  • Be emotionally and physically available for your child.
  • Encourage your child to share their feelings and thoughts.
  • Acknowledge and validate their concerns.
  • Respect your child's fears whether they seem "rational" or not.
  • Maintain sleeping, eating, and general family household routines.
  • Facilitate age-appropriate opportunities for children to make choices, giving them a sense of safety and control.

Our children may be overwhelmed with the closing of schools, social distancing, wearing masks and the changes homes and schools have experienced due to COVID-19. But one thing is clear; we must acknowledge the underlying trauma. Traumatic experiences can impact learning, behavior, and relationships at home and at school. For our children to reach their academic potential, we must first see the whole child, hold space for feeling and healing and give them the time and opportunity to practice these all-important social and emotional skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.

This post was originally published on GenMindful

By its very nature, motherhood requires some lifestyle adjustments: Instead of staying up late with friends, you get up early for snuggles with your baby. Instead of spontaneous date nights with your honey, you take afternoon family strolls with your little love. Instead of running out of the house with just your keys and phone, you only leave with a fully loaded diaper bag.

For breastfeeding or pumping mamas, there is an additional layer of consideration around when, how and how much your baby will eat. Thankfully, when it comes to effective solutions for nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, Dr. Brown's puts the considerations of mamas and their babies first with products that help with every step of the process—from comfortably adjusting to nursing your newborn to introducing a bottle to efficiently pumping.

With countless hours spent breastfeeding, pumping and bottle-feeding, the editors at Motherly know the secret to success is having dependable supplies that can help you feed your baby in a way that matches lifestyle.

Here are 9 breastfeeding and pumping products to help you no matter what the day holds.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's electric pump

For efficient, productive pumping sessions, a double electric breast pump will help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Quiet for nighttime pumping sessions and compact for bringing along to work, this double pump puts you in control with fully adjustable settings.

$159.99

Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Dr. Brown''s hands free pumping bra

Especially in the early days, feeding your baby can feel like a pretty consuming task. A hands-free pumping bra will help you reclaim some of your precious time while pumping—and all mamas will know just how valuable more time can be!

$29.99

Manual Breast Pump with SoftShape™ Silicone Shield

Dr. Brown's manual breast pump

If you live a life that sometimes takes you away from electrical outlets (that's most of us!), then you'll absolutely want a manual breast pump in your arsenal. With two pumping modes to promote efficient milk expression and a comfort-fitted shield, a manual pump is simply the most convenient pump to take along and use. Although it may not get as much glory as an electric pump, we really appreciate how quick and easy this manual pump is to use—and how liberating it is not to stress about finding a power supply.

$29.99

Nipple Shields and Sterilization Case

Dr. Brown's nipple shields

There is a bit of a learning curve to breastfeeding—for both mamas and babies. Thankfully, even if there are some physical challenges (like inverted nipples or a baby's tongue tie) or nursing doesn't click right away, silicone nipple shields can be a huge help. With a convenient carry case that can be sterilized in the microwave, you don't have to worry about germs or bacteria either. 🙌

$9.99

Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's silicone pump

When you are feeding your baby on one breast, the other can still experience milk letdown—which means it's a golden opportunity to save some additional milk. With a silent, hands-free silicone pump, you can easily collect milk while nursing.

$14.99

Breast to Bottle Pump & Store Feeding Set

After a lifetime of nursing from the breast, introducing a bottle can be a bit of a strange experience for babies. Dr. Brown's Options+™ and slow flow bottle nipples were designed with this in mind to make the introduction to bottles smooth and pleasant for parents and babies. As a set that seamlessly works together from pumping to storing milk to bottle feeding, you don't have to stress about having everything you need to keep your baby fed and happy either.

$24.99

Washable Breast Pads

washable breast pads

Mamas' bodies are amazingly made to help breast milk flow when it's in demand—but occasionally also at other times. Especially as your supply is establishing or your breasts are fuller as the length between feeding sessions increase, it's helpful to use washable nursing pads to prevent breast milk from leaking through your bra.

$8.99

Breast Milk Storage Bags

Dr. Brown's milk storage bags

The essential for mamas who do any pumping, breast milk storage bags allow you to easily and safely seal expressed milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Dr. Brown's™ Breast Milk Storage Bags take it even further with extra thick walls that block out scents from other food items and feature an ultra secure lock to prevent leaking.

$7.99


Watch one mama's review of the new Dr. Brown's breastfeeding line here:

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Life

Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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