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For many kids, 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 as they’re launched into a busy new schedule with bus rides, school activities, lunch prep, and helping their children navigate academic pressures.
Today’s caregivers face different challenges with the return to school than they did in past years. There’s continued worries of COVID-19, an emerging teen and adolescent mental health crisis, kids not wanting to attend school, and concern for their children’s physical safety.
It’s become essential to provide a supportive, healthy work environment for employees and ensure they and their dependents have access to the mental health support they need—not just at the beginning of the school year, but year round.
What families are facing in today’s challenging times
Before the pandemic, ADHD, anxiety, behavior problems, and depression were the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children 3-17 years of age.
In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for 10-14 year olds (third leading cause for 15-24 year olds). During February and March of 2021, ER visits for suspected suicide attempts were 50.6% higher in girls aged 12-17 then when compared to 2019 data.
School refusal—having emotional difficulty remaining in school or attending school—is impacting 2-5% of all school-aged children ages 5-6 and 10-11, and schools across the nation report significant absentee records.
The increase in school shootings are also taking an incredible toll on both parents and children.
While schools are still fairly safe, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 93 school shootings that caused injuries or deaths took place during the 2020-21 school year. This is the highest figure recorded in 20 years.
6 ways to support employees as their kids go back to school
It may seem like your employees’ kids going back to school is a home issue, not a workplace issue. But when the family system is in crisis, the impact can be felt by all—including coworkers and managers.
A survey of 3,000 parents reports that six in ten parents are very or extremely concerned about their child’s behavioral, developmental or emotional health.
The survey also found that 53% of working parents have missed work at least once per month to deal with their children’s mental health. This could impact the employee’s job performance, and also increase an employer's medical spending.
Here are six ways to support your working parents as their kids go back to school:
- Build 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 begin their workday before their kids wake up, and finish it after they go to bed
- Offer a comprehensive benefit with fast access to mental health support to meet the ever growing needs of both your employees and their dependents
- 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 school meetings, appointments to address therapeutic needs, sleepless nights, and fatigue
- Hold informational sessions or provide resources on parenting topics such as the warning signs of children and teen mental health distress, common child and adolescent mental health disorders (anxiety, ADHD, depression), how to effectively communicate with your child, or bullying prevention
A helpful resource for your working parents
As a final step, here’s an educational resource you can provide to your employees to help them navigate and manage back-to-school challenges and fears. This could be sent out in an email, or presented during a dedicated session to show working parents how much you support and care about them.
Learn the warning signs of mental health distress in your children
These can include:
- A change in behavior, weight, sleep, or grades
- An increase in irritability, anger, and physical pain
- Disorganization, mood swings, risky behavior (like self-harm and substance use), and excessive crying or restlessness
Be mindful of situational triggers that can cause a mental health crisis
These can include:
- A loss such as death, divorce, romance, and dignity
- Victimization or exposure to violence
- School crisis, such as discipline or academic pressure or stress
- Family crises such as abuse, domestic violence, running away, or a highly conflictual relationship with any family member
Focus on what you can control, and let go of what’s outside your control
Become involved both at 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 insights and feedback.
Find out the response times from your local law enforcement, and how they plan to address a crisis:
- What are the different levels of security for lockdowns vs. sheltering in place?
- What are the bullying prevention programs and protocols for the school district?
Know that drills help children and teachers prepare for a crisis
Fire drills and natural disaster drills for earthquakes and tornadoes were once viewed as over reactionary. But these help children and teachers be prepared as much as possible, so they know what to do if there is a crisis to prevent injuries.
Active shooter drills serve this same purpose. Encourage your children to pay attention during these drills and take them seriously.
Develop a family crisis plan
Just as you prepare your family for a house fire, develop a plan with what each person of the family needs to do and where to meet if something goes wrong at school or during an event.
Think about how this plan may be adjusted if you have children with special needs. Speak with the school to address these concerns and include any accommodations in your 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Continue to build open communication with your child
Discuss who they consider their most trusted adult if you happen to be unavailable during a crisis. If you become aware that you’re another child’s trusted adult, be prepared to act quickly if they need you, and know that your relationship could be life-saving to them.
Talk with your children about their worries and concerns at the start of the school year and throughout the year. What we fear as adults may not be what is worrying our children. It’s often simpler things like using a combination lock, navigating a new campus, or finding someone to sit with at lunch.
Finally, discuss with your employer the importance of a supportive work environment and access to the mental health care needs of a whole family.
Read this blog next to learn why the future of work must prioritize family wellbeing, and the steps you can start taking today to make this a reality at your organization.