Tips for Parents and School Staff
School begins during COVID-19:
Now is the time of year when we begin to see the signs that summer is evolving into fall, and the new school year is approaching. Many children and parents have mixed emotions about the start of a new school year. The uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged school systems, especially educators, staff, and administrators, to transform the ways that they connect with, teach, and support students and families. These changes also offer school systems the opportunity to build on the relationships they have formed with each other and with their students and families. It is possible within this move to largely virtual learning for schools to build resilience and coping skills, provide a much needed sense of safety and routine, and connect with families who might otherwise be isolated and overwhelmed.
Partnerships with Students and Families
Validated data have already shown that when parents partner with schools and outside mental health agencies, students have better health and academic outcomes. (https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/parent_engagement.htm) During these uncertain times partnering with students and families is even more essential. Each student’s physical environment, access to technology and other learning tools, and availability of essential needs such as food and mental health is unique. So, in order for any learning and enhanced well-being to occur, caregivers and schools must partner in order to determine and meet the needs of each. For partnerships to thrive in these times, there must be: frequent and clear communication, mutual assistance, and an understanding that the school, its staff, its families, and its students, are all in
this together and doing their best. This spirit of partnership can be reinforced through communication of clear, shared goals related to the well-being of the entire community during this time.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s (NCTSN) Creating, Supporting and Sustaining Grief-and “Trauma-Informed Schools” uses:
A System Framework,” to consider how, in the time of COVID-19, schools can adapt or transform their practices by using a partnership approach to help children feel safe, supported, and ready to learn.
Why a Grief-Informed -Partnership Approach during the COVID-19 Crisis?
For most students, educators, staff, and school administrators, COVID-19 raises concerns related to danger, safety, and the need for protection. For some, this danger is added to preexisting trauma, adversity, and disparities. For others, the pandemic brings new grief, loss, and trauma, which may include increased risk for violence and abuse in the home. Many families will experience secondary adversities related to their isolation, economic hardship, and unmet basic needs. Partnering with Emma’s Place or an outside Mental Health agency is essential to help school communities feel safe and supported during times of danger and adversity. This approach is needed so that students can learn, educators can teach, and staff and administrators can connect and provide needed structure. Using this approach will assure parents and caregivers that the school community is strengthening their
child’s well-being, thereby allowing families to reinforce the importance of learning.
What Does It Mean to Be “Trauma-Informed?”
The NCTSN defines a trauma-informed system, such as a school, as one where all parties involved recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on those who have contact with the system including children, caregivers, staff and service
providers. Educators, staff and administrators infuse and sustain trauma awareness, by collaborating with all those who are involved with the child, to maximize physical and psychological safety, facilitate the recovery or adjustment of the child and family, and support their ability to learn and to thrive.
Schools identify and share the essential issues and partnership information that can help support parents and school personnel in working with children who have experienced grief and trauma or support those who are at risk or who might need more intensive support to address their traumatic stress reactions.
For grieving children and families, the start of the new school year, is another item on the long list of things that they are going to have to ride through a roller coaster of emotions as they experience each day.
Grieving children may feel fearful, anxious, and sad. They often worry about being separated from their loved ones, and are worried that they’ll lose another loved one while they are in school. They also worry about feeling different from their peers who haven’t lost a loved one. For a parent grieving the loss of a spouse, starting a new school year as a single parent for the first time can also be extremely stressful. For families who lost a school-aged child, the start of the school year can be extremely difficult and challenging.
Emma’s Place is here for you during your transition into the new school year. We’d also like to offer some tips below to help the transition be a bit smoother.
Tips for Parents to Help Grieving Children as They Start the School Year:
Set up some coping tools with your child before they start school. These can include:
- Giving them a small picture of you, or special memento that will help them feel
- connected to you when you are separated during the day.
- Putting notes in their school lunch or backpack to let them know they are loved.
- Explaining to the child that friends may seem a little shy with them at first, but that has more to do with the friends not knowing what to say, rather than anything about the child themselves, and help them formulate some conversation starters.
- Helping your child realize that it is Ok to not answer questions about the death of their loved one that they don’t want to answer.
- Letting your child know it is OK to have fun.
Inform your child’s teachers and the school counselor that your child is grieving so that:
- Teachers can understand the reason why your child may seem distracted and have had a change in their behavior or attitude.
- Counselors can check in with your child periodically and set up some times when they
- can speak with you to update you on how your child is doing and address any issues.
- Teachers can allow the grieving child to look at photos or keep mementos out on their desk to help with any separation anxiety they may be feeling.
Tips for Grieving Parents to Help Themselves:
- Develop a means of support prior to the start of the school year so you can have someone as a back-up to help pick up your child if you’re having a bad day.
- Join a bereavement support group (EMMA’S PLACE!) or speak to a counselor if things get overwhelming.
- Accept help when people offer.
- Remember to take care of yourself and the analogy of oxygen masks on an airplane. You are told to put on your own mask before you can help anyone else.