Two-plus weeks in and the life of the school has joyfully settled into its familiar rhythm. Parent socials are coming soon. Curriculum nights have celebrated the year ahead and the excellence of the faculty and the program. Interscholastic games have begun for our middle schoolers and field labs are about to begin for all of our students. For too many reasons to count, it feels great to hit an early stride in the school year. For all of that encouraging news, we realize, of course, that challenges remain, sometimes a bit less visible than a Wednesday assurance test or indoor masks might be.
In what I hope should not come as a surprise to anyone, the statistics around the impact on children and their mental and emotional health throughout the pandemic have been jarring. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately one in five families reported worsening emotional health in their children ages 5-12 over the course of the pandemic. Given that we have all lived it, such a statistic likely shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even here at Belmont Day, where school was onsite, it was impossible not to see the ways in which the condition of the world was taxing on the mental and emotional health of our students.
Among the places where the impact of that condition was felt most acutely was in the office of Dr. Leesa Mercedes, our school psychologist. Meeting remotely with students last year, Dr. Mercedes saw her caseload increase, and the work she did in partnership with McLean Hospital on behalf of our students and faculty never felt more critically important. So, as we begin a new year that hopefully demands less emotional and mental strain than last year did, I sat down with Dr. Mercedes to consider some strategies to help parents at home to help identify and mitigate some of the strains that may manifest again this year.
We expect some of thisperhaps all of thismay already be happening at home, in which case, we hope this serves as a welcome reminder.
Dr. Mercedes’ tips to help children manage their emotional and mental health:
1 – Comfort and Empower Children
- Provide Knowledge and Set Limits: Establish expectations, daily routines, and provide information to help your child know what to expect and what is expected of them. Consistency and predictability provide us with a sense of security and comfort that supports student engagement.
- Normalize Setbacks and Ease Worries: The experience of feeling uncomfortable or challenged is good for us. We learn to problem solve, develop coping strategies, and build resilience. Acknowledge concerns and emphasize that we can do hard things!
2 – Prioritize Your Own Health and Wellness
- Model Self-Compassion: Be patient and kind with yourself when facing challenges and making mistakes. Children will take cues from you about how to respond to and manage new situations and unexpected circumstances.
- Put Yourself First: It is not selfish, it is necessary! Create time and space in your daily schedule to do something for you, even 10-20 minutes can have a significant positive impact. Throughout your day, notice negative thinking and interrupt unhelpful thoughts with positive affirmations.
- Consider schedules and structures that you need to (re)establish and new family activities/practices that you would like to continue into the school yearand make time for them!
3 – Maintain Meaningful Connections
- Remain involved and be present. Initiate conversations with your child, engage with open-ended questions, and listen closely.
- Acknowledge, validate, and empathize with the feelings and experiences of your child and share your own experiences of adjustment.
- Be optimistic and set positive intentions.
- Practice collaborative problem solving with teachers, other parents, and adults as a means of connection and support.
There are some things that may come a bit more naturally because they are already such a key part of what Belmont Day is all about. For example, keep encouraging your children to practice gratitude and appreciation. It helps us rebound from setbacks, moves us toward active problem solving, and neatly connects to our core values of caring and respect. Answer your children’s questions honestly with age-appropriate information and keep things in perspective for them. Negative feelings are ok to havethey can even be catharticand as long as we are honest with them, we can help them navigate those challenges.
Finally, know that Belmont Day is here. Your school, your child’s teachers, your community strives to be here in times of need, whenever they may be. BDS strongly believes in consulting and collaborating with families, so tap into the expertise of educators and share your expertise about your child so we can better know them as a whole person.
We are settling quickly into the year, another great one, with increasing signs of hope and positivity that the pandemic may soon be safely under control. Our goal, as we thoughtfully follow these signs ahead, is to ensure that every aspect of each child is joining us in our school’s confident embrace of the future and growing each day from an inspiring, challenging, and joyful experience at Belmont Day.