Empowering students with language-based learning differences
The Siena School Blog
Mental Health Awareness Month is here, and let’s start with a fact: 46% of Americans will meet the criteria for a mental health condition.
The COVID pandemic has indeed brought on the topic of mental health, as it has been detrimental to some and posed particular mental health challenges. However, research shows that symptoms of mental health—mainly depression and anxiety—have shown increasing trends even before the pandemic.
Given its ubiquity, social media is closely tied to mental health issues, particularly in tweens and teens. Social media usage has both positive and negative effects for young people, so it’s important for parents to be aware of how multifaceted social media is. Let’s take a look at what may be causing these trends to continue rising, as well as some strategies for mental health and social media use that can be implemented to help build resilience.
Social Media and Mental Health
Derek Thompson’s recent article on why teens are so sad refers to four different factors that may have contributed to this increase in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues:
Although there are many benefits to having social media and being connected to lots of information, there are also serious detriments if it is not monitored or used properly. In a video on the addiction of social media and technology in general, writer and speaker Simon Sinek notes that the brain is permanently altered when there is too much stimulation from different modalities of technology (e.g., phones or computers). These permanent changes can cause slower brain function. Thompson’s article states that social media may not be a “rat poison” on tweens’ and teens’ mental health but rather a contributing factor that may lead to higher rates of depression and dependency.
Decrease in Sociality
Social media, as well as many months in isolation during the height of the pandemic, have limited the amount of socialization that people are doing. Moreover, even when some school and other social events opened back up last year, distancing and other restrictions required young people to learn new ways of socializing.
Social media has replaced certain activities, such as hanging out with friends, obtaining a driver’s license, or engaging in extracurricular activities, which can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Stressful World (and More News About It)
Unquestionably, our world over the last few years has been very stressful. Unfortunately, there is also more exposure to hearing of this news due to social media and the immediacy of the internet. Our tweens and teens are reading more about the things that go on in our world, and this causes more levels of stress, which in turn can cause increased amounts of anxiety, depression, and pessimism.
This is especially true right now, due to the recent tragedy in Texas at Robb Elementary School. News such as this mass shooting can be extremely hard to process, especially when we are constantly being updated. Creating space away from the news as well as utilizing resources such as the ones listed below are helpful in checking in with each other and our own mental wellness.
- Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers (National Association of School Psychologists)
- 10 Strategies for Talking to Children about School Shootings (Psychology Today)
- Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting (American Psychological Society)
- Talking to Children About Tragedies (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Modern Parenting Strategies
Yes, it can be hard to manage our children and teens and protect them from harm. However, certain modern parenting strategies could be more of a hindrance, rather than a help. As parents, our reaction may be to accommodate a child dealing with an anxiety-provoking trigger (such as a dog) by helping them to avoid anxious situations. Although potentially helpful in the short term, avoiding anxious situations could enable the anxiety and also keeps the child from building resilience, which is so necessary for helping our children be successful as they grow up.
Instead, parents might encourage their children to work with a counselor or therapist to devise strategies to label their emotions, validate feelings, communicate and process what is in their control, as well as come up with coping mechanisms to handle stressors. Many of these conversations are helpful when implemented in the home as well! Communication with tweens and teens is key to understanding them, interacting with them, and helping them develop emotionally and persevere through adversity.
Strategies for Building Success and Social Media
With the trends of mental health symptoms increasing, more anxiety and depression amongst our children, and no end to the technology in our lives, how do we help protect our kids without enabling them? This seems like an impossible task!
This article from educational psychologist Michele Borba lists seven skills for building success versus building struggle in our children and teens. Ideally, we as parents are being less accommodating, creating opportunities for exposure to triggers or stressors, having them fix their problems on their own (with guidance) and building empathy and strategies to help them navigate. The seven skills are:
Ultimately, Borba writes, the idea is to help “boost mental toughness, resilience, social competence, self-awareness, and moral strength.”
It remains important as parents that we monitor social media usage as well as technology overall. Encouraging more time with friends and family, getting outside, participating in extracurricular activities, and limiting the amount of screen time is ideal. Social media contracts (such as this one) may be useful for setting up boundaries. Always communicate with your child about the potential harm of social media and balancing screen time with social time.
Taking care of ourselves and our children is of utmost importance during this time. Communication amongst the family, setting appropriate boundaries, and having coping strategies for all will be so helpful in creating healthy habits and building resilience in everyone.
For related resources, see Devorah Heitner Raising Digital Natives, as well as Delaney Ruston’s film Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age. And, see Siena’s blog for more posts about social and emotional health, including some lessons in self-care and tips for socializing.
Whether you’re brand-new to a school or a returning family looking to welcome new students and their families, late summer is the perfect time to start building connections for the upcoming school year.
Since last school year began virtually for many districts, the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year might also feel new, even for returning students. It’s especially important, then, to get students in touch with each other soon so they can start building the relationships that they’ll bring into the new school year.
Making Connections: Before School Starts
- Review the Parents page on the school website for resources, supply lists, the school year calendar, and more.
- Learn about your school’s Parents Association. Remember that student grade representatives are great for welcoming new families. Once they have contact information for new families, grade representatives can reach out and arrange various activities. This is a wonderful way to meet families who have been at the school for years, as well as learn about grade-specific events.
- Check to see if your school has a private social media group for families to share information and resources. This could be a great way to connect with families across grade levels. You might need a moderator to give you access to the group, but this is usually a simple process.
- See if parents already have access to the school directory to contact other families in your child’s grade and arrange a time and place to meet (such as a local park or other outdoor space). Parents could also trade ideas for small-group social activities like hiking or biking in locales with adjacent trails (such as Brookside Gardens, Lake Needwood trails, Lake Frank, or Meadowbrook Park in Montgomery County, MD). Parents could end such activities with a potluck picnic to give everyone a chance to learn more about each other.
- Check your school’s website or blog for any resources geared toward parents and the community.
Making Connections: The New School Year
- Attend school-based meetings: often, schools will kick off the transition to the new year by hosting a grade-level event to allow the families to become involved.
- Attend Back to School Night, which is typically the first major school event of the year. While you’re waiting to enter the classroom and meet your child’s teachers, why not introduce yourself to a nearby parent? There is a chance that their child is a classmate and might be a great resource for homework help.
- Go to a Family Picnic or similar gathering if your school offers one. This is a wonderful way to meet families who have been at the school for years. If you are a returning family, you remember how important this event was to help with the transition to a new environment. Make sure you introduce yourself to the new families and help them get engaged with the school’s community.
- Consider attending parent association meetings as a way to meet new school members. There is always time to network before and after the meeting. You will also gain valuable insight from the shared topic of the evening.
- Plan a regular biweekly or monthly meetup of parents after drop off at a local park or café.
- Remember that you can volunteer to be a Grade Representative. This will definitely get you connected with every parent in your child’s grade. Grade Reps are a great resource to help you learn about activities related just to your grade.
Helping new families get acclimated to the school community is mutually beneficial—particularly as students continue to adjust to changing guidelines for social interactions.
Whether you’re just joining The Siena School or returning for another year, don’t hesitate to find a way to get involved and stay connected with the community.
It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?
Given how much has changed in terms of parenting, schooling, work–life balance, and more, parents should remember that they’re not alone. A few months ago, Siena counselor Holly Rothrock wrote an excellent blog post on experiential self-care lessons. While originally written for students, these lessons are relevant for parents in caring for their mental health and feeling connected.
Online Resources for Support and Community
Siena’s website has a number of resources for parents about learning differences, college applications, and more. Here’s a list of books we have in our parent resources library that you might also find helpful. Parents needing to feel connected as more schools are reopening could check some of these educational resources:
- Parents’ Place of Maryland includes access to links, podcasts, and more about schooling, mental health, and COVID.
- The Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) has some resources specific to COVID and telework, as well as parenting classes, a blog, and resource library.
- Hey Sigmund has plenty of good material about anxiety management and sleep habits for kids.
- Child Mind Institute, while not a support group per se, has a lot of great information to complement the above resources.
Parents could also check if their children’s schools have any online groups for sharing resources, advice, and support.
Resources for Parents of Children with Learning Differences
- Community Connections for Parents is a support group for parents of children with learning differences, ADHD, and anxiety.
- The Study Pro (Virginia) hosts a learning series for parents. The topics range from executive functioning and anxiety to writing coaching for various grade levels.
- ADDitude has ample information for ADHD and a discussion forum.
- On Facebook, parents can consider joining Dyslexia Support and/or Decoding Dyslexia MD. Dyslexia Support is a private group that offers practical advice, book recommendations, and emotional support. Decoding Dyslexia MD is a public group with posts on where to find a tutor, where to get your child assessed, questions about schools, and more.
- WISER has events, webinars, experts, and more for parents of children with learning differences.
- Understood has plenty of information for families, including the Understood Community.
Do you have any favorite or particularly helpful online resources to share? Comment below or email me. You can be anonymous if you wish.
Note: We do not endorse any of these websites or resources. Always check the privacy and appropriateness for your child.
With more schools planning to begin in-building instruction in the coming weeks, are you wondering how to adapt to rules about social distancing and lunch routines?
Lunches and snacks that are healthy, convenient, and don’t need to be reheated or refrigerated at school are especially important, since many students won’t be able to use microwaves or other shared equipment. What are good options for lunches, snacks, and food containers when students return to the school building?
Food and Snack Ideas for School
To maintain a healthy school environment, students’ meal needs should (1) be self-contained, (2) require minimal touching, and (3) not need refrigeration or reheating.
Although you’ll probably continue sending some of the same lunch and snack foods as before, there are some additional options (including ideas for touchless meals) to limit foods that need to be eaten by hand:
- The Sweet Potato Chronicles gives many ideas for touchless lunches and snacks that can be reheated before school, stored in thermoses or similar containers, and eaten with utensils. Watch writer Laura Keogh demo some recipes.
- This clip from Breakfast Television (Canada) shares recipes and other ideas from two work-from-home mothers.
- UC Davis Health has several healthy lunch and snack ideas that parents could adapt based on their kids’ tastes and dietary needs.
- A personal favorite are peanut butter and banana energy bites; they’re healthy and easy to make—even for kids! (Almond or cashew butter could be substituted for peanut butter.)
- There are many healthy options for homemade Chex Mix or trail mix: cereals, nuts, dried fruit, yogurt raisins, and more all go well together and are easy to dole out into individual servings.
- Prepackaged, nonperishable snacks like cereal bars, newtons, and granola bars are portable and durable.
- See some nut-free options from Momables and A Mindful Mom, including a DIY pizza, mini ham-and-cheese bites, and lunch wraps.
Meal options such as these are healthy and portable; they can also be eaten with a fork or spoon to be touchless. Kids can help choose or put them together days in advance and then be ready for the week.
Lunch Containers and Other Supplies for School
Since students won’t be able to use microwaves or refrigerators at school, they’ll need portable lunch equipment to keep food at the right temperature, such as:
- A food thermos or soup container for meals they can warm up before coming to school;
- Lunch containers with either freezable lids or built-in ice packs in lieu of using a refrigerator;
- Reusable cutlery with its own carrying pouch;
- Durable and insulated water bottles for cold or warm drinks;
- A CrunchCup for cereal on the go;
- Durable lunch boxes and bags—Good Housekeeping has a list of the 15 best lunch boxes and bags (including some insulated ones); and
- An extra sealable bag for students to put their mask in while eating. (Note: there are many options for reusable sealable bags.)
Clip-on hand sanitizer is especially important as well; many parents have gotten good deals on large containers of hand sanitizer for refilling portable ones. Travel-sized antibacterial hand wipes are also useful, and students could maintain cleanliness by putting the used wipe in the foil pouch for later disposal.
Have a favorite snack idea or supply? Let us know in the comments.
*Note: We do not actively endorse any of the above sites, recipes, or resources. Please check them for allergens and other food sensitivities for your child.
Connecting To Your School Community Online
Joining the community at a new school has always been important for families: whether it is finding new friends for children, exchanging contact information, arranging meet & greets to get children and parents together, or sharing information on where to find school supplies.
It’s become extra-important this year with so much of our socializing and community formation becoming virtual. But, there are still plenty of options for new school families to meet current ones and get the kids acquainted before the school year starts.
Families can start connecting with each other now to ease the transition from summer to the new school year. There are also plenty of ideas out there for art projects, games, and more to help families get acquainted and grow the school community.
Resources for Online School Communities
- Look at our recent blog post about virtual summer vacation, which offers ideas for having a virtual book club or movie night, among other ways to keep kids connected.
- Remember that student grade representatives are especially important now for welcoming new families into the school community virtually. Once they have contact information for new families, grade representatives can reach out and arrange a virtual activity. This is a wonderful way to meet families who have been at the school for years and learn about grade-specific events.
- Attend school-based meetings: often schools will kick off the transition to the school year by hosting a grade-level event to allow the families to become involved.
- Check to see if your school has a private social media group for families at the school for sharing information and resources. This could be a great way to connect with families across grade levels. You might need a moderator to give you access to the group, but this is usually a simple process.
- While ensuring that you adhere to state and local guidelines, parents could also trade ideas for small-group social activities like hiking or biking in outdoor, socially distanced spaces with adjacent trails (such as Brookside Gardens, Lake Needwood trails, or Meadowbrook Park in Montgomery County, MD).
Online Resources, Games, and Activities
- The Kids’ Table offers virtual cooking classes for kids to learn cooking and baking skills with each other and their families.
- There are plenty of online board game options from Parents.com that school families can build a virtual game night around: Monopoly, Clue, and more. Remember also that Jackbox offers family-friendly games.
- Happy Hooligans has plenty of virtual science activities for kids to learn and try out with each other.
- STEAM Powered Family has some at-home science ideas and “Summer Boredom Busters” that families can work on together for socializing and community building.
With a different kind of school year approaching, virtual socializing will help families and kids stay connected throughout the summer. Expanding friendship and community circles now will not only give kids and families something else to do in the dog days of summer; it will also help expand the support network everyone will need in the coming school year.