Setting Students Up for Success
Tips for Wellness in a Post-Pandemic School Year
Written By: Emma Driban, JFS Content Developer
Back-to-school nerves are normal for parents, students, and teachers. After a year and a half of altered learning, people are excited to reconnect—but the first day of school has always resulted in mixed emotions. Between nervousness about new classes, sadness over the end of summer vacations, and eagerness to return to more traditional school settings, there are a lot of feelings to process for everyone involved.
Here are some recommendations to help maintain and encourage good mental health as we all adjust to the coming school season.
1. Be aware and supportive.
Students of all ages may struggle with expressing their anxieties. It’s important to encourage safe environments where they can work through their thoughts and feelings. Look out for unusual behaviors or reclusiveness. Whether you’re interacting with students in the classroom or at home, you may notice changes in behaviors or increased irritability as they adjust to changes in their environments. Remaining open to conversation and helping students feel comfortable expressing themselves is a great way to remind them that it’s ok not to be ok and to help them work through it.
2. Practice and encourage healthy stress management strategies.
Exploring relaxation and mindfulness can help anyone destress after a long day. Teaching students about how they can manage difficult situations on their own or with help is an important way to help them hone those life skills. Kids and teens may find talking with friends or trusted adults, journaling, exercising, and listening to or playing music are effective ways to relax and unpack what is going on in their lives.
3. Encourage healthy eating and exercise.
In addition to the physical benefits, eating well and exercising have a positive impact on mental health. Food choices affect mood, concentration, and energy levels. Exercising releases brain chemicals that make us feel good—boosting self-esteem, improving sleep and concentration, and, overall, making us feel better. It’s important to remember that everyone is unique and certain foods and exercise affect each person differently.
4. Reinforce good sleep habits.
Getting enough sleep is important for everyone. For students, getting enough sleep contributes to focusing in class, getting good grades, and also preventing depression and other mental health issues. As a teacher of mine used to say, being “alive, alert, and enthusiastic” are key parts of learning. Most experts recommend nine to twelve hours of sleep for children aged six to twelve, eight to ten hours of sleep for teenagers aged thirteen to eighteen, and seven to nine hours of sleep for those over the age of eighteen.
5. Maintain a daily routine.
While not everyone needs a fully scheduled day, following a daily routine is proven to have health benefits. From lowered stress levels to better sleep to improved self-esteem and motivation, a daily routine has a lot of influence over mental health. Waking up and going to bed around the same times each day contribute to being well-rested and add a structured frame to the day. In addition, it can be helpful for students to have a designated homework time—among the variety of activities they may have planned—to ensure it gets done. With so much going on during the day, it is also good to account for designated relaxation time. It’s easy for homework and clubs and after-school activities to feel overwhelming; including time to destress in a daily routine highlights its significance.
“Consistency, patience, and empathy are going to be so valuable as we move towards a post-pandemic world,” says Stacy Repp, MSCC, one of JFS’ school-based Family Crisis Therapists, who works with elementary school students on skill-building and behavior management. “If we survived the past year and a half, I have no doubt we will all adjust and excel this next school year as well.”
Students, teachers, and parents are all partners in creating welcoming and safe learning environments. Teaching students about good mental health practices, using words they will understand, is more important now than ever with all the changes they have experienced in the past year. Last school year saw a drastic lack of socialization and changes in classroom norms; the switch back to in-person schooling will require acclimation and relearning expectations.
If you or your student need additional support while facing the challenges of a new school year or adjusting to transitions, JFS Delaware’s talented and compassionate clinical team can help. Get started today by completing our online intake form.