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Mental Health during a Pandemic

Balancing Academic Performance and Mental Health During the Pandemic

September 22, 2020     By Dr. Rachele Merk, PhD - Staff Psychologist, Boys Town Nevada Behavioral Health Clinic

Boys Town, Boys Town Parenting, Connecting with Teens, Corona Virus COVID-19, Crisis, education, Homework, Kids and Teens in Crisis, Mental Health, Parenting Resources, Teens

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, children and families were able to have a clearer divide between time spent at home with family and time spent at school. Now, virtual schooling has created a new challenge where balancing family time, commitments with school and promoting overall mental health is proving to be very difficult.

Here are some strategies you can use with your child and family to help create a better balance:

  • Create a learning space that is separate from a space for play or family time. This will help children maintain focus on their schoolwork and promote a more effective transition into play or family time when the school day ends. It also allows you and your child to be able to say, “Work stays in the homework space." Alternatively, if your home does not allow for a separate space for school – consider putting away all school supplies at the end of the day to signify a transition to play and family time.
  • Ensure your child is following family rules regarding when social media, television and devices are allowed. Discuss with children how much time they think is reasonable to spend online apart from time spent with virtual learning and commit to specific timeframes for on-screen vs. off-screen hours. Children should be encouraged to engage in activities that allow for movement to decrease restlessness, be outside and support appropriate amounts of exercise and play.
  • Make a schedule and stick to it. A daily schedule can reduce anxiety and create structure so that the days feel more orderly and routine. Consider the best times for your child to learn and work, and build those times into the daily routine.
  • Help your child communicate with the school. It seems some stress from virtual learning comes with the challenges of communicating with teachers and school staff regarding expectations and to seek clarity on assignments. Here is how you can help keep communication flowing as smoothly as possible:  
  • Virtual communication can allow for opportunities to communicate with teachers regarding missing work, lesson plans and other academic needs. Check your messages once or twice a day and make sure to reply to any messages that require one.
  • Emails to teachers may come from students, or students and parents together, regarding their needs. Specifically, if work is not understood, work with your child and your child's teacher on identifying what may be interfering with understanding and discuss the next steps for your child to get his or her needs met.
  • Promote consistency with sleep. The National Sleep Foundation released recommendations for amounts of sleep per age. Studies have shown that children who obtain a regular amount of adequate sleep have improved behavior, attention, ability to regulate their emotions, memory, ability to focus and learn and overall better mental and physical health. The sleep recommendations are:      
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
  • School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Ways to keep your and your child's mental health and stress levels in check:
  • There is a lot of pressure for kids to complete their schoolwork. However, be mindful of the impact this pressure has on your child's stress level and mental health. For most students, this is a new way of schooling so feelings of frustration and overwhelm, although normal, can become difficult to cope with over time. Check in with children on how they are coping with their work and expectations, and talk to them about an action plan to get them the right help when they need it.
  • Remember that you aren't alone in your experience. Check in with other parents and caregivers regarding strategies they've found helpful and supports and resources they've accessed that have worked. Also, share your concerns and useful strategies to help support others. It is important that we work together as a community for the good of our children and families.

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