Back-to-school: Focus on child wellness rather than academics during pandemic, B.C. psychiatrist says

As kids head back to school, a psychiatrist is encouraging parents and caregivers to focus on wellness over academics.

Heading back to school can be stressful for students, even when there’s no COVID-19 pandemic. But with many lockdowns over, and students returning to classrooms full-time, Tyler Black, assistant clinical professor at the University of British Columbia’s department of psychiatry, says it’s important to help kids transition.

Specifically he advises for “less homework and more leeway.”

“Kids may not know specifically when they’re feeling overwhelmed, but (if they are) they’re going to show behaviours of distress,” he said in a news release.

“I think parents should be attuned to things like their children’s sleep, their mood, if they’re unusually bored or unmotivated, how they’re eating and also, notice if they’re enjoying themselves.”

As kids adjust to classroom life, Black said parents and teachers should focus more on emotional growth and wellness, over academics.

“We need to make sure we take a pace that doesn’t overwhelm them. Let’s make the transition a little bit gentler for them,” he said.

“Academics can take a backseat—or at least a passenger seat—relative to the work teachers and schools can do to foster mental health, well-being and connection.”

Black also says it’s important to listen to kids, and if they say they’re struggling, parents need to make their lives easier.

“I routinely teach parents the mantra (of asking their kids) ‘What can I do to help you?’ It’s a powerful question,” he said.

And if they say that “school is hard,” then it may be time to talk to the teacher or administrator to look at making some quick adjustments.

Black says it’s OK to allow kids to take days off as needed – also known as mental health days, especially if they’re struggling.

“Maybe kids have a half day or a day off now and then, or spend more time in a resource room instead of doing school work.”