Hugs, art and deep breaths help get 11-year-old through stress of COVID-19

For 11-year-old Liliana Mottillo, balancing math homework and maintaining her mental health has become stressful during the COVID-19 pandemic that's kept her family in a "little bubble."

Mental health consultant now part of virtual elementary school classes

Liliana Mottillo, left, and her mother Sabrina, right, said they often have open and honest conversations about mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jason Viau/CBC)

For 11-year-old Liliana Mottillo, balancing math homework and maintaining her mental health has become stressful during the COVID-19 pandemic that's kept her family in a "little bubble."

Deep breathing techniques, meditation and positive thinking are now a part of her virtual classroom's weekly routine. Liliana is a Grade 6 student at Christ the King Catholic Elementary School in Windsor. Her entire class spends at least 45 minutes each week with a mental health consultant during class talking about how they're feeling and ways to cope.

"One thing that gets me away from being stressed or just calms me and helps me feel better is doing art because I just get to be in my zone and do what I love," said Liliana. "When I really need it, I talk to my parents a lot and they help me feel better whether it's just a hug or it's just sitting down for a long talk."

Her mother Sabrina Mottillo said coping with the effects of the pandemic is challenging for everyone, especially her two young children.

"To see her battling stress at 11 years old, she's 11. Think back when we were 11, it's very different," said Mottillo.

How this 11-year-old copes with COVID-19 stress


9 months agoVideo
Liliana Mottillo, 11, is a Grade 6 student in Windsor, Ont. who said she's been trying different things to deal with stress associated with a new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:50

Since Sabrina and her husband both now work from home, they're able to talk, interact and support their child more than before. She feels very fortunate that they're also getting help from school when it comes to navigating their feelings.

Andrew Di Pietro is Liliana's Grade 6 teacher. When in-person classes moved online last month, he noticed a shift in some students' behaviour.

"You could just tell that some things were off in their personality," said Di Pietro, who also noticed some weren't submitting work.

"I knew that [for] those students, it wasn't a lack of motivation. I perhaps assumed there was a mental health component, different stresses building up on them," he said.

Andrew Di Pietro is a teacher at Christ the King Catholic Elementary School in Windsor. (Jason Viau/CBC)

'It's easy to start to feel helpless'

To help, he reached out to the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board's student mental health consultant.

Prior to the pandemic, those staff members were involved and engaged with students. Now, that's happening even more.

"We did a class [yesterday] where we focused on practicing gratitude and how important it is in a time when we're surrounded with negative messages, and bad news," said Marie-Lou Cortese. "To stay focus on what's going well in their lives, what is the good news. It's easy to start to feel helpless."

Focus on the positive

Mary-Lou Cortese is a student mental health consultant at the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Quieting the minds of students and stress reduction techniques are a part of the mental wellness learning. Belly breathing and meditation are two examples of things students are taught.

Another big part of the discussion, "letting kids know it's OK to not be OK sometimes," she said.

And that's what Liliana is now realizing.

"Sometimes I wake up and sometimes I just feel like today isn't my day, I don't want to get up," said Liliana.

Class chats break down mental health stigma

Those are feelings Liliana, and her classmates sometimes discuss openly as a group. She said everyone feels "at home, and safe" and it's a place "where no one is judged."

Cortese said that goes a "huge way" in breaking down that stigma around mental health.

"Sharing my experiences as a teacher that you know, I have feelings of uncertainty and fear about this as well, that we start to normalize some of that for students," said Cortese.

Since Liliana gets to spend even more time with her family during this period of isolation, she said there are more positives to pull from this pandemic compared to the downsides.

"I get to bond with them. I've been going on a lot of walks with my parents and just talking and just catching up with each other," said Liliana.

But perhaps some of the most memorable moments for Liliana are when her family "just has a nice laugh."

If you need mental health support, here are some resources that can help:

  • ConnexOntario, Ontario's mental health, addictions and problem gambling help line: 1-866-531-2600
  • Windsor-Essex Counselling Support Line (24/7 during pandemic): 519-946-3277 or 1-877-451-1055
  • Health Families program, via the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit: 519-258-2146 ext. 1350
  • Windsor Regional Hospital community crisis line: 519-973-4435
  • Distress Centre of Windsor-Essex County: 519-256-5000 (From noon to midnight each day)
  • Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare 24-hour mental health crisis line: 519.973.4435
  • Family Services Windsor-Essex: Call 1-888-933-1831 for information on how to access services


About the Author

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at


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