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Addressing Your Employees’ Back-to-School Worries: Expert Advice From a Therapist

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For many children, the start of a new school year brings the excitement of new teachers, notebooks, highlighters and school bags.

For parents, those lazy summer days fade quickly when they’re launched into a busy new schedule of bus trips, school activities, lunch prep, and helping their kids deal with the academic pressures.

When returning to school, caregivers face different challenges today than in previous years. There are ongoing concerns about COVID-19, a looming mental health crisis among teenagers and young people, children who do not want to go to school, and concerns about their children’s physical safety.

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It has become imperative to provide employees with a supportive, healthy work environment and to ensure they and their families have access to the psychological support they need – not just at the start of the school year, but throughout the year.

What families have to deal with in today’s challenging times

Before the pandemic, ADHD, anxiety, behavioral problems and depression were the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children ages 3 to 17.

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In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for 10-14 year olds (third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds). In February and March 2021, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12 to 17 were 50.6% higher compared to 2019 data.

School truancy—emotional difficulties staying in or attending school—affects 2–5% of all school-age children aged 5–6 and 10–11, and schools across the country report significant absenteeism.

The increase in school shootings is also taking an incredible toll on parents and children.

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While schools remain reasonably safe, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 93 school shootings occurred in the 2020-21 school year, resulting in injuries or deaths. This is the highest value for 20 years.

6 ways to support employees when their kids go back to school

It may seem that the return of your employees’ children to school is a problem at home and not a problem at work. But when the family system hits a crisis, the impact is felt by everyone — including co-workers and bosses.

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A survey of 3,000 parents found that six out of ten parents are very or extremely concerned about their child’s behavior, development or emotional health.

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The survey also found that 53% of working parents missed work at least once a month to look after their children’s mental health. This could affect the employee’s job performance and also increase the employer’s medical expenses.

Here are six ways you can support your working parents when their kids go back to school:

  • Create awareness of the importance of prioritizing the mental health needs of a family system
  • Create supportive policies like flexible working hours that allow employees to start their work day before their kids wake up and finish it after they go to bed
  • Offer a comprehensive benefit with fast access to psychological support to meet the ever-evolving needs of your employees and their families
  • Create a culture of belonging that prioritizes the mental health needs of all employees and their families
  • Know the needs of your employees and the challenges they may face during the workday, such as: B. School meetings, appointments for treatment of therapeutic needs, sleepless nights and fatigue
  • Hold educational sessions or provide resources on parenting topics such as warning signs of mental distress in children and adolescents, common mental disorders in children and adolescents (anxiety, ADHD, depression), communicating effectively with your child, or preventing bullying

A helpful resource for your working parents

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As a final step, here is an educational resource that you can share with your employees to help them deal with and manage back-to-school challenges and fears. This could be sent out in an email or presented during a special session to show working parents how much you support and care about them.

Get to know the warning signs of mental stress in your children

This can include:

  • A change in behavior, weight, sleep, or grades
  • An increase in irritability, anger, and physical pain
  • Disorganization, mood swings, risky behaviors (such as self-harm and drug use), and excessive crying or restlessness

Be aware of situational triggers that can cause a mental crisis

This can include:

  • A loss like death, divorce, romance and dignity
  • victimization or violence
  • School crisis, such as discipline or academic pressure or stress
  • Family crises such as abuse, domestic violence, running away, or a highly conflicted relationship with a family member

Focus on what you can control and let go of what is out of your control

Get involved in both your children’s school(s) and in your community to better understand their respective crisis responses. Attend school board and community meetings, join health and safety committees, and provide insight and feedback.

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Find out about your local law enforcement response times and how they plan to address a crisis:

  • What are the different levels of security for lockdowns versus existing shelters?
  • What are the school district bullying prevention programs and protocols?

Know that exercises help children and teachers prepare for a crisis

Fire and natural disaster drills for earthquakes and tornadoes were once considered overreactionary. But these help children and teachers to be as prepared as possible, so they know what to do if a crisis arises to avoid injury.

Active target practice serves the same purpose. Encourage your children to pay attention to these exercises and take them seriously.

Develop a family contingency plan

Just as you prepare your family for an apartment fire, develop a plan of what each person in the family needs to do and where they can meet if something goes wrong at school or at an event.

Think about how this plan can be adjusted if you have children with special needs. Talk to the school to address these concerns and include any precautions in your 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Continue to establish open communication with your child

Discuss who they consider their most trusted adult when you are unavailable during a crisis. If you find yourself to be another child’s trusted adult, be prepared to act quickly when they need you and know that your relationship could be life-saving for them.

Talk to your children about their worries and worries at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year. What we fear as adults may not be what worries our children. It’s often simpler things like using a combination lock, navigating a new campus, or finding someone to sit down to lunch with.

Finally, discuss with your employer the importance of a supportive work environment and access to the mental health care needs of an entire family.

Next, read this blog to learn why the future of work must prioritize family well-being and what steps you can take today to make this a reality in your organization.

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