Tag Archives: support

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

https://mhttcnetwork.org/centers/global-mhttc/responding-covid-19-anxiety-return-workschool

https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/8-teacher-tips-student-mental-health

Supporting Play for Children with Autism

Supporting Play for Children with Autism

Written by: Rebecca Mohr

Like all children, kids with autism love to play! Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that effects a person’s social and communication abilities and can cause restricted or repetitive behaviors. These differences in thinking and behaving may cause some children with autism to need support in play. Find more information about autism here.

Children with autism may have specific preferences for what toys they want to play with and how they want to play. Negotiating the social interactions and challenges of play with other kids may feel uncomfortable for some. Others may only want to engage with one toy or activity. Some children with autism might play with toys by making patterns, lining them up, or sorting them into categories which others may not understand.

As a spectrum disorder, not every child diagnosed with autism will have the same strengths or challenges with socializing and play. Children with autism are as diverse as children without autism! Even though not every child will need additional adult support, it is helpful to be aware of how a child’s autism might be expressed while playing. Here are a few things to consider for supporting a child with autism in their play.

Toys provide sensory input. Children with autism will often look to fill one of their five senses with objects in their environment:

  • Touch: Toys that have interesting textures or bright colors can be exciting for some kids. For example, stuffed toys that are soft and animal figurines that are rough and bumpy. Pinscreens and fidget toys are examples of toys that offer touch.
  • Visual: Children with autism might be drawn to toys with a lot of visual aspects. Toys that light up, are filled with water and sparkles, or have bright colors can be captivating and exciting. You can make your own glitter jars at home that are fun to make and fascinating to watch!
  • Sound: Musical toys or toys that make sound effects can be exciting and fun for kids with autism. Children might dance or sway to music from a toy, squeeze a toy with a squeaker, or honk the horn on a toy car.

Just as some sensory experiences may be very exciting and fun for a child with autism, it is important to keep in mind that some sensory inputs can be frustrating or uncomfortable for some children. Loud noises may be bothersome. The feeling of sand between their toes in a sandbox might be irritating. Children with autism and their caregivers know what is liked and disliked when it comes to play, so it is important to pay attention to what is enjoyable to help children find the right play environment that fulfills their sensory needs.

Independent play

Playtime may be an independent activity for children with autism. While play time is important for teaching sharing and cooperation, independent play can provide a time to be creative and spontaneous outside of their structured day. Play can be used to learn and to make friends, and it is also important for children to have an unstructured time to make their own choices. Sometimes children might choose to play alone and that is okay!

If your child is playing cooperatively with a friend or sibling, praise this social behavior and tell them what you like about their interaction. Not all playtimes will look the same. Sometimes children can be encouraged to play with others and practice social skills. Other times they may want to be alone.

Specific interests

It is common for children with autism to have specific interests. For example, your child may have a focused interest in trains, planes, certain animals or bugs, video games, or story characters. Their conversation and play may be dominated by these interests, or they may refuse to play with any other types of toys. This behavior may be confusing to others who don’t understand their singular interest, but this passion can be an opportunity for a child to learn and take pride in their specific knowledge. Follow your child’s lead when playing with their preferred toys and ask them questions about the topic to show appreciation of how much effort they have put into learning about their favorite things. Asking your child to tell you about what they know can help you bond, and it shows them that you care.

More resources for Autism:

Play and Autistic Children

Recreation Activities and Autism

If You’re Concerned About Development

Supporting Children Experiencing Parental Incarceration

Supporting Children Experiencing Parental Incarceration

Written by: Sarah Kaufman

The United States (U.S.) has the highest rate of incarceration globally. The U.S. also has one of the largest populations of incarcerated parents. This places children with incarcerated parents at risk for unhealthy outcomes. Children with incarcerated parents are one of the largest and fastest growing high-risk populations.

What are the experiences of children with incarcerated parents?

  1. Hidden Victimization
    1. Children with an incarcerated parent often experience adverse effects due to their parent’s incarceration. They would benefit from additional support in schools and communities; however, their unique needs are often invisible to their educators and neighbors. Caring adults may not realize a student is experiencing stress related to their parent’s incarceration unless it is discussed specifically in a conversation with the student or their primary caregiver. An article by the National Institute of Justice explains how improving communication between members of the criminal justice system and other service providers, such as school personnel, can increase identification and strategies for these students before negative outcomes even occur.
  2. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)
    1. Parental incarceration itself is an adverse childhood experience (ACE). Children experiencing parental incarceration have a higher likelihood of experiencing additional ACEs, which could include mental illness, substance abuse, and trauma. To support children, schools can implement strategies aimed to increase positive child experiences (PCEs), which can help to improve and maximize protective factors for students with incarcerated parents (see next section). These interventions can help to decrease negative outcomes that occur due to trauma and build resilience among these students.
  3. Feelings of Isolation
    1. As a result of their parent’s incarceration, children may carry anguish, distress, and grief. They may feel alone. The stigma or potential embarrassment of having an incarcerated parent could decrease academic motivation and achievement. To make sure children continue to engage in school, caregivers and educators can foster an environment that promotes educational and social engagement. There is the potential for feelings of school connection to be threatened when a parent is incarcerated, which is why educators can play an important role in helping to foster this relationship between the schools and families.

What more can be done to support children experiencing parental incarceration?

  1. Social Groups
    1. Social groups can be effective in building communities and protective factors for children experiencing parental incarceration. Within these groups, children learn that they can safely discuss their feelings and thoughts. Additionally, these groups can decrease feelings of isolation as children learn that they are not alone in their experiences and emotions. This community can help to emphasize children’s strengths, which can help to bolster their self-esteem. Social groups can be effective in establishing trust within the group when confidentiality is understood and respected. Additionally, social groups can help to connect children with peers who may be going through similar experiences. Positive connections are created and supported.
  2. Empathy
    1. Empathy is a protective factor that can create support in academic environments and can help children in schools to regulate their feelings and emotions. It creates a supportive and positive classroom community. Studies have shown that children with incarcerated parents are less aggressive when they experience higher levels of empathy.
  3. Mentoring Programs
    1. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services describes mentoring programs within the state of Washington that can provide support for young children. Children affected by having a parent incarcerated can benefit from these supports. These programs increase a sense of community, as well as offer 1-to-1 support for children. Mentors in the community work with children to reduce feelings of post-incarceration anxiety, build self-esteem, and empower these children to use their voices. A mentor can be another member of the community who becomes a positive role model, and encourages academic and social goals. Additionally, through these programs mentors can help encourage children and their incarcerated parents to connect through and participate in various activities.

Resources for Washington state children and families with incarcerated parents:https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/access-opportunity-education/children-and-families-incarcerated-parents/cfip-resources