Waterloo Region parents worried about the mental health of their children as back-to-school approaches

·3 min read

Lyssa Roberts says she cannot handle another lockdown.

During the winter of 2020, the Cambridge resident worked 60 to 70 hours a week, while assisting her five-year-old daughter, who cannot yet read, with online learning. Now going into another pandemic school year, Roberts’ biggest concern is that a surge in COVID-19 cases will result in another lockdown.

“My biggest fear with back-to-school is myself and my husband’s mental health,” said Roberts. “My husband works outside of the house, so it’s just myself and my daughter at home. She doesn’t have a sibling to keep her occupied and her anxiety soars.”

It's not just parents worried about a lockdown affecting their own mental health — many are concerned about how their children will handle the stresses of starting the 2021 school year with the Delta variant on the rise and a provincial back-to-school plan that many are calling insufficient.

Yasser Zia said he noticed a change emotionally in his seven-year-old son during the second school lockdown in 2020.

“When we went into the second lockdown earlier this year my seven-year-old cried at having to do online school again,” said Zia.

“He cried while saying, ‘we have to do this again. We’re back here again.’ He’s a busybody who needs to move around and his spontaneous and physical humour doesn’t translate online.”

Likewise, Cambridge resident Ryan Eagles is as worried about an outbreak as he is about his son’s mental health. Eagles’ son, who is five, experienced restless sleep and exhibited emotionally clingy behaviour during the first lockdown in 2020 at his school.

Eagles also worries about local vaccination rates, saying he's worried “about the kids of parents who did not get vaccinated.”

Waterloo-based child therapist Melissa Fellin says that the depression she sees in her clients is directly related to the lockdown.

“One of the main reasons I’m seeing depression is that every time something comes up that children are able to do, what’s happened in the past is that it gets taken away again,” said Fellin, commenting on the pervasiveness of school lockdowns.

“So I think preparing children for different scenarios is helpful, talking to them about how they are feeling and validating their experiences, that yes, this is sad and there is some loss and grief,” Fellin added.

A study by the Hospital for Sick Children shows that children and youth mental health is being significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with researchers finding a significant link between the more time students spend online learning and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Waterloo Region District School Board mental health lead Barbara Ward says that the board is prepared to help students by offering a number of resources, including online connections to social workers, and digital tools for resilience and trauma training and tips for students experiencing anxiety.

Parents who don’t know where to turn to get support for their child can simply contact their school, where they will be connected with one of the board’s social workers. Teachers have also received extra training on how to instil resilience in children through exercises that help children regulate their emotions and foster gratitude.

“I think we need to come at this from the perspective of all of us working together, school, families and the community can work to help children through this,” said Fellin.

“I think that we will be better off that way instead of putting it onto one group.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When reporter Genelle Levy asked parents what their biggest concerns were with kids heading back to school, some parents came forward to talk about their children’s struggle with mental health throughout the pandemic school year.lyssa

Genelle Levy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times

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