Families prepare for school after a challenging year

With summer vacation winding down, students are expressing a mix of emotions as they head back to class on Tuesday.

Some like Joseph Presutti, going into grade three this year, are counting down the days.

"I'm happy about school," Presutti said. "I'm (looking forward) to seeing my friends.

While others, including Jakey Yusufyan, are a little uneasy about going back.

"I'm pretty sure I might not have that many friends in my class this year…but I'll be happy if I made some new friends," Yusufyan said.

With the isolation and upheaval of the past year and a half, experts say it's normal for students to be nervous this time of year.

"Back to school is difficult for kids in any year, never mind a pandemic," said Children's Mental Health Ontario CEO Kimberly Moran. "It's only going to be worse this year because of the disruption to our routines, and they were in and out of school last year."

Moran says some critical tips for parents are getting into a routine early and preparing the night before.

"For kids who are struggling with a bit of anxiety, you don't want to scramble the morning of," Moran said. "You want to make sure everything is really easy to do, so get things started today."

On top of establishing an early bedtime and getting a head start, Moran says listening is also important.

"What you have to do is listen and validate their concerns; that's what they want to hear; they want you to be plugged into them," Moran said.

Of course, Moran says parents can always seek help if their children are struggling and showing signs like not eating or sleeping poorly.

"You can reach out to your family doctor; on our website, we have direct free connections to child and youth mental health professionals who can help you virtually and in-person as well."

As for parents who are sticking with online this year, Moran says finding a way for your child to socialize safely will also go a long way in preventing mental health struggles from taking a toll.