Here are four tips for communicating with students’ families to help them face the new academic year with ease and excitement.
1. Acknowledge that they may be worried about mental health concerns.
Educators know firsthand that students’ mental health has been negatively impacted over the past few years. And parents are concerned, too. A survey conducted by RBC revealed that one in five Canadian parents are concerned about a mental health-related issue with one of their children.
Informing caregivers about the supports your school has in place, such as universal mental health screening that helps educators spot mental health issues with students early, can alleviate concerns. Sparking dialogue around the subject can also give caregivers the confidence to approach you with their concerns so you can work together to support their child.
2. Actively communicate to help dispel anxiety.
Since a lot of performance anxiety stems from worry about the future, aim to provide as many details as possible for your students and caregivers about classroom expectations and procedures. Offering insight into the classroom structure and daily routines can help them know what to anticipate.
Another common concern for many students is social anxiety, such as whom to sit next to on the bus or in the cafeteria. One solution to this is scaffolding opportunities to foster social connections and inclusivity. For example, assigning seats at lunch or planning group activities at recess, particularly at the start of the school year, can help ward off these fears.
3. Be cognizant of different family situations.
Many teachers use discussion prompts like “tell us about your summer break” to help students get to know each other at the start of the school year and to build bridges with caregivers.
When having these conversations, remember that families take different shapes and have different customs and resources. Be intentional. Rather than asking what students did or where they traveled, ask what they learned or invite them to share a custom or tradition they participated in. You can also use back-to-school conversations with caregivers to help families in need connect with community resources.
4. Encourage caregivers to normalize anxiety and empower their children.
Anxiety is a common mental health issue among children and adults, and caregivers’ anxiety can impact their children. Understanding the root of anxiety and modeling good coping strategies are essential to reducing and managing anxiety among students.
Here’s a framework caregivers can use to help a child process their anxiety:
Acknowledge: Say something like, “It looks like you’re a little nervous about going back to school. Can we talk about it?” Depending on the child’s age, they might need help finding the vocabulary to express their feelings, such as that their stomach feels funny, they feel restless or they can’t concentrate. Remind children that anxiety is a natural response to any change, good or bad.
Normalize: Even though back-to-school stress is normal, it shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed. Affirm their feelings and acknowledge that sometimes kids get nervous when they start a new school year because of the unknowns. Will their teacher be nice? Will they encounter a bully? Take care not to introduce a source of fear the student doesn’t have, so stick to addressing what your child is expressing. A key step of this stage of life is developing a tolerance for experiencing stress without expecting to eliminate it (which is virtually impossible and not healthy).
Empower: Remind the child of times they’ve made successful transitions, which in turn provides the expectation that this change will also be positive. Say something like, “Remember, you were nervous last year and here we are for a new year. You made it last year and you can make it again this year. Let’s think about what worked last year….” Then, walk through the steps you took last year to help restore their confidence, such as meeting the teacher before school started or deciding to play with a new child at recess each week.
Finally, provide suggestions for strategies, such as deep breathing and asking for help, to manage lingering anxiety.
A unified approach breeds success
Embracing the partnership between the school community and the families you serve fosters a welcoming environment that contributes to a more fulfilling year for all. A united effort creates the nurturing foundation children need to thrive academically, emotionally and socially.
Learn more about how you can support the mental health needs of your entire school community by visiting Pearson’s Mental Health Resource Centre.