Category Archives: Milestones & Learning

COVID-19, Return to School, and Children’s Mental Health

COVID-19, Return to School, and Children’s Mental Health

Written by: Sarah Kaufman

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted many aspects of student’s daily lives. Support may be necessary to improve children’s mental health during this time. Read more to learn about how the COVID-19 Pandemic affects student mental health and discover what can be done in school and at home to support young learners.

Children’s Mental Health During the Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March of 2020 school environments quickly and radically changed. When the COVID-19 pandemic began almost all schools across the country shifted to some version of remote learning. Students’ extracurriculars were halted and almost all forms of socialization were paused. Additionally, mental health services shifted to remote platforms, and we began to see increases in depression and anxiety in children and teens. By September of 2021, 18 months into the pandemic, most schools returned to in-person learning. However, many students fell behind academically, were anxious about returning to school, and presented with behavior challenges.

Current State of COVID-19 and Children’s Mental Health

When students return to in-person school, any pre-existing anxiety regarding school may surface, along with new fears of getting sick. Additionally, students may feel anxious about re-engaging with difficult academic content. Given that remote schooling disrupted students’ social networks, there may be disappointment, confusion, or sadness with new or changed norms and friendships in the return-to-school environment. Some students may experience ongoing COVID-related trauma due to losing a loved one or isolating from a sick family member, which could lead to grief and ongoing worry. Some students might also experience economic hardships from the pandemic, including unstable housing or food and work insecurities.

What Can Be Done in School and at Home?

  1. Increase School Connectedness
    1. It is important that schools continue to encourage family involvement during student’s return to school. The more supported and connected students feel, the faster they will readjust to a school-based learning environment. It is also important that schools consider any barriers to engagement that families may face. Personal connections are needed now more than ever. Positive messages at school and at home can increase these feelings of connection. When looking at strategies to promote mental health during the return to school, it has been shown that the most successful schools focus first on rebuilding the school community. The CDC also recommends that educators schedule virtual calls or tours with parents to share about their students’ experiences.

  1.  De-stigmatize Mental Health
    1. Parents and educators can remind their children that increased anxiety or stress is normal. Having additional stress is common during hard times, and parents and educators may feel this as well. It is important to inform all students of available resources. Supporting children’s social-emotional well-being through positive, inclusive, and safe classrooms and home climates, as well as building strong relationships, promotes mental health. The CDC also has resources to help individuals take care of themselves during stressful times.

  1. Universal Support and Screening
    1. Increasing numbers of children have needed services upon returning to school during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is important to implement rapidly available strategies and support within schools. Schools can aim to establish or enhance universal, school-wide screening for social-emotional and behavioral needs, as well as incorporate the perspectives of families and students into this screening. Some recommendations and strategies for incorporating Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) can be found here.

Additional resources for supporting children coming back to school:

Going back to school after the coronavirus lockdown – Animated video for children

Young Children and Effective Communication

Young Children and Effective Communication

Written by: Catie Chun

Effective parent-child communication beginning in early childhood sets the stage for trusting relationships and development of self-esteem. Researchers have even been able to predict life satisfaction based on the strength of parent-child communication! 

When we communicate orally with children, we are not just saying words — we are also communicating our values, expectations, and beliefs. With this in mind, it is important to consider what unspoken messages we are sharing. When we set our children up for success, praise their strengths and show them that we are listening, they receive the message that they are capable and worthy. 

Using Effective Commands Tells Children “You Can Do It!”
Young children want to do a good job. As a caretaker, giving clear instructions makes it more likely that your child will follow through as instructed. We want to make our commands as effective as possible to set children up for success! 

Give direct commands to eliminate confusion and to make it clear that the child, not you, should complete the task.
• Direct: “Pick up your toys.”
• Indirect: “Let’s pick up your toys.”

State commands positively and tell the child what to do instead of what not to do.
• To do: “Sit in the chair.”
• Not to do: “Don’t climb on the table.”

Break up multi-step directions into several single tasks so it is easier for your child to remember. This also gives you more opportunities to praise your child!
• Single: “Put your shoes in the closet.” Give praise. “Make your bed.” Give praise.
• Compound: “Put your shoes away and make your bed.”Single: “Put your shoes in the closet.” Give praise. “Make your bed.” Give praise.

Be specific and let your child know exactly what is expected. This can make it easier to decide whether the child has followed through.
• Specific: “Please walk.”
• Vague: “Behave!”

How Using Specific Praise Tells Children “You Are Working Hard!”
Young children crave their caretaker’s approval! To sweeten the deal, be sure to name the action that you like. Naming the quality or action in your praise increases the likelihood that your child will repeat the action in the future. To promote a growth mindset, it is important to praise the process and the effort that your child puts into a task rather than the outcome.

• “I love the way you are sharing with your younger sibling. You are being so kind!”
• “Way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to a new friend! That is really brave.”
• “Thanks for giving your best effort at saying these numbers — I can tell you were working your hardest!”“I love the way you are sharing with your younger sibling. You are being so kind!”
DO praise immediately: praise is most effective when delivered immediately after the action.
DO praise frequently: the golden ratio is five praise statements for each command.
DO praise enthusiastically: young children respond to energy and encouragement!
DON’T tag on criticisms, reminders of past failures, or requests for future performance: praise should be a celebration of the child’s work, period.
DON’T praise undesired or inappropriate behavior: this is confusing for children — wait for something more constructive, then praise positive behavior.
DON’T be vague: your child is more likely to repeat the desired behavior when they know what you liked!

Using Your Listening Skills Tells Children “You Are Important to Me!”
Consistently engaging in meaningful conversation with your young child shows them that their words and thoughts matter to you. Using some of these listening skills can help emphasize that you are listening.

Ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to elaborate on their answers. Questions that begin with “what,” “where,” “whom,” or “how,” are helpful tools to start conversations with young children. 

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and let them know that it is okay to feel that way. Children need to have their feelings supported by their parents to feel understood. 

Let your child talk! One-sided lecturing and nagging is not a meaningful conversation. Use these communication builders to open the lines of communication: 
• “I’d like to hear about it!”
• “Tell me what that’s like.”
• “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
• “I understand.”
• “What do you think about… ”
• “Would you like to talk about it?”
• “Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?”
• “That’s interesting.”
• “Explain that to me.”

•  CDC’s Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers: Communicating with Your Child 
• The REACH Institute at Arizona State University has brief videos on Making Clear and Effective Requests and Using Positive Praise and Incentives
•  Boys Town Guide to Communication Skills

Authentic Learning at Home

Authentic Learning at Home

Written by: Emalise Mitchell

What is Authentic Learning?
Authentic learning is an approach that allows children to learn through hands-on activities. Authentic learning gives children an opportunity to discover and investigate while connecting to the real-world context of what they are learning.

How Do I Make Learning Authentic at Home for My Child?
Below are a few tips for inspiring authentic learning:

  1. Ask: What Interests My Child?  What excites your child or sparks their interest? Is it seeing a caterpillar on the sidewalk, or the airplanes flying overhead, or mixing paint colors to discover new colors? Identifying the topics and concepts that are interesting to your child is the first step in organizing ideas for authentic learning and exploration. 
  2. Make Real-World Connections with Interests  Once you know what your child is fascinated by or curious about, you have an opportunity to connect practical learning skills with their interests. For example, if your child is excited by insects and bugs, you can go on a walk to count as many bugs as you can find. Then, you could draw a few pictures of the bugs, and then listen to a read-aloud of the story The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and discuss the process of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. By engaging in these activities, you encourage your child’s exploration of math skills (counting bugs), literacy skills (listening to a story), and science (the life cycle of a caterpillar).  hat excites your child or sparks their interest? Is it seeing a caterpillar on the sidewalk, or the airplanes flying overhead, or mixing paint colors to discover new colors? Identifying the topics and concepts that are interesting to your child is the first step in organizing ideas for authentic learning and exploration. 
  3. Engage in Exploration with Your Child  As much as possible, explore and discover with your child as they are learning. Children are energized to learn when you are as interested and curious. It is encouraging for children when they see how fun and useful learning can be alongside their parents and family.
  4. Encourage Sharing   Supporting learning through sharing helps a child make real-world connections. Your child can share their drawing with classmates, virtually or in person, or give a family member a tutorial on how to mix red and blue paint colors to make purple. Giving children the chance to share their knowledge and excitement empowers them to keep learning and discovering.

Suggestions for Activities at Home
Recreate a Recipe from a Story
Check out these children’s books that have recipes to try. These books give your child a chance to connect with a story while practicing math and literacy skills as they cook with you.

Build an Imaginary Fort 
Give children an opportunity to be imaginative and resourceful through building forts out of blankets or castles out of cardboard. These activities expand their creativity and critical thinking skills. They also practice working together, planning, and communication skills as they design and build their magical kingdom or fort. 

Conduct Science Experiments Together
Together, you and your child can explore volcanic eruptions and how to make your own play dough. These – and many more – quick and easy science experiments provide a way to connect curiosity (and hypothesis testing) with science and creativity. 

Check out these websites for additional suggestions for authentic learning:
Virtual Field Trips

Thousands of videos for your child’s specific interests 


At-Home Science Experiments