The start of a new school year is always a bit stressful, but with new pandemic measures usual anxiety might be heightened, according to a social worker at a local children's centre.
Typically this time of year means that children need to readjust their schedules to get back on a routine sleep schedule, better manage screen time and homework time, Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital's Regional Children's Centre lead Stacey Slobodnick told CBC News. These changes alone can cause a lot of distress, she said.
For others the anxiety stems from not having positive school experiences, whether it be bullies, test anxiety or trying to fit in.
But COVID-19 adds a whole other set of concerns.
"With this added pressure of COVID-19 they also have the worry of how am I going to manage a mask all day? How am I going to keep up with online classes? How is the school going to ensure my safety with social distancing? And how are we still going to have fun if so many of those other activities are going to be removed?" she said.
The centre Slobodnick works at is expecting an increase in outreach from parents this year due to the pandemic and has increased their staffing levels in anticipation of the demand.
Chronic symptoms parents should look out for include tearfulness, sassy or clingy behaviour, fatigue or hyperactivity, Slobodnick said, adding that it's especially concerning if these symptoms interfere with the child's ability to eat, sleep or enjoy other activities.
She said parents know their child best and can determine whether these behaviours are characteristic or not.
Stigma may hold some families back from seeking help
For those seeking additional support for their children, Slobodnick said the centre provides individual counselling, family counselling and is working to offer group counselling in a COVID-friendly manner.
Coping strategies taught during these sessions include relaxation techniques and re-framing negative thoughts into positive ones.
If these issues persist and aren't addressed, Slobodnick said children can experience increased withdrawal from activities, a decline in their school performance and a deteriorating relationship with their parents.
But stigma still exists when it comes to reaching out for mental health and some parents might be afraid if they had a negative experience in the past, she said.
"We all need help sometimes and it's okay to reach out and say 'I'm looking for some extra support, can you help me understand maybe what's happening with my child a bit better so I can respond to [them] more effectively,'" she said.
In Windsor-Essex, she said it seems as though a lot of refugee families only access support through their settlement agencies, which might be because they don't know other mental health services exist.
In response to this, Slobodnick said they have facilitated training of one of their parent programs to settlement agencies so that the service can be provided in many languages.
Walk-in services at Hotel Dieu's Regional Children's Centre assist children four to 18 years old and all other services help with those aged six to 18 years old.