P.E.I. schools preparing for student anxiety around return to class
'I think the first few weeks might be a little tricky'
Officials with the Public Schools Branch (PSB) are reassuring Island parents that staff are well equipped to support students through any anxiety that might come with returning to school this fall.
Jillian Stewart, a member of the school psychology team with PSB, says teachers, principals and counsellors have been trained on how to recognize signs that students aren't coping well.
"I think things might be a little more worrisome for the kids depending on whether they have special needs or not," said Stewart.
"And I think especially this time away from school has been challenging for children with learning challenges or developmental disorders and other disabilities who generally, in a normal school year, benefit from support from a lot of our professionals."
For younger children, be on the lookout for a regression in behaviour.— Jillian Stewart, Public Schools Branch
Stewart expects there will be anxiety around getting back into class, but said children are resilient and the benefits of returning to school communities and a predictable routine should have a positive impact on the mental health and development of students.
"I think the first few weeks might be a little tricky as everyone is navigating the new rules and guidelines that schools have put in place," said Stewart.
"But as they start to get a handle on new expectations and routines at school, I think kids will really get back into the swing of things and feel a lot more comfortable and less worried about the re-entry to school."
Stewart said a new handbook has been made available to staff, outlining tools and resources on the return to school. And a referral process will also be in place to connect students with mental health supports in the school and community, as well as the Student Wellbeing Team.
For parents, it'll be important to keep an eye on children and talk to them, to ensure the transition is going well. Signs that it isn't going well will vary by age.
"For younger children, be on the lookout for a regression in behaviour," said Stewart.
"So if kids start to behave in ways that they did when they were younger, for example, bedwetting or thumb sucking or if they're clinging to their parents, that could be a sign that they are struggling."
For younger children, Stewart recommends starting the transition process now, by building structure into their day with designated times for meals, chores and playtime.
And for older children, talking to them about the operational plan for their school.
"For teens, the shifts in mood and anxiety level might be a little more subtle," said Stewart.
"So you might see changes in energy levels, difficulties with concentration, withdrawal from activities and friends. So it'll be important for parents of teens to keep open lines of communication with their child about how they're adjusting and managing."
She said parents can also start preparing children for the return to school by making sure they are familiar with the public health practices and recommendations. That includes helping them get used to wearing a mask, making sure they know how to properly wash their hands, and what two meteres of distance looks like.