children's mental health
© Veranika Smirnaya |

Paediatric experts from Nationwide Children offer their advice on children’s mental health when transitioning back to school

In a recent survey, conducted by Nationwide Children’s, 2 out of 5 parents said that they had concerns about their child’s social and emotional wellbeing as they transition back to school. 

Samanta Boddapati, PhD, child clinical psychologist and prevention coordinator at Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital said: “There are a range of mental health concerns that children can face in school from minor stressors such as nerves about upcoming tests or dynamics in peer relationships, all the way to some of the common mental health disorders, such as learning disorders, ADHD, anxiety and depression.

“A number of factors within the school environment can promote or hinder mental health and might influence how children react. For example, positive student relationships and strong social-emotional programming within schools can promote mental health, whereas issues like bullying or teasing and challenges with peer relationships might hinder mental wellness.”

Maintaining a routine

“Maintaining a routine is important, especially for families who are continuing to do online learning full-time. Create a part of your child’s day that is structured and a part of their day that has some flexibility,” said Parker Huston, PhD, clinical director of On Our Sleeves® and pediatric psychologist for Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s.

For very young children who may have separation anxiety, experts advise it may be a good idea to consider making a special goodbye part of your routine, such as a fun handshake. It may help to remind them when you will see each other again or give them a small transitional object to remind them of you.

As kids get older, they have more stress related to social access, bullying, grades and changes in the structure of their day. For older children who have been communicating with teachers through online learning, face-to-face communication might feel uncomfortable.

“A certain amount of stress is normal, but parents, caregivers and educators should look out for drastic changes in functioning or behaviour,” said Dr Huston. “Sleep changes, mood changes, inability to engage with social environments or friends, increased anxiety about things that they maybe weren’t nervous about in the past are changes you want to talk to your child’s paediatrician about.”

Tips for parents and caregivers

  • Start having conversations early and often
  • Admit to your child there are a lot of unknowns, but that you are there to support them.
  • Discuss possible scenarios or fears with children, as well as talking through different options and alternatives.
  • Model appropriate coping skills for children, showing kids how to respond to future unknowns and building resilience.
  • Demystify some of the procedures that may be in place in schools such as mask-wearing and temperature checks by talking about them and practising them at home.
  • Reach out to your school to see what resources are available for your child, such as social-emotional programming or school counselling.


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