Back to school, back to problems?

The rhythm and predictability of a school routine has not been possible in over two years. We have all been living with the uncertainty the pandemic has brought and this takes a toll on our mental health.  

Children and youth may have mixed feelings and experiences returning to school. Human connection is critical for healthy development. However, we have been isolated from each other and many of our social connecting skills are rusty.  Here are a few guidelines for ways we can support our children and youth who may have concerns.

How do we know if our children and youth are struggling?  

Most children and youth have experienced disruption, upset or trauma during the last couple of years, some in addition to already difficult situations. The effects of this disruption can show up in different ways in different individuals. Some examples are: frequent changes in moods including anger, anxiety and worrying. Social changes may include avoiding friends, family or activities they used to enjoy.

You may notice changes to their sleeping or eating habits or that they are unconcerned, or overly concerned, with their appearance. They may seem to lack energy or motivation. Youth may also begin to use substances or engage in risk-taking behaviour. These behaviours can occur in any children or youth, however, if the emotions and behaviours seem more intense and interfere with the child’s day-to-day life, these may indicate that your child or youth is struggling.   

What can we do to help them?

A parent or caregiver often knows their child or youth quite well.  Pay attention to your instincts about your child. Consider the behaviours that concern you and notice how frequently they are happening. Think back to what might have contributed to the behaviour or emotion. Speak to your child about your concerns. Wait for a private moment to discuss your worries in a calm, non-judgemental way. Be brief with your concerns and allow them a lot of space to respond without interruption.  

Reflect to them what you heard them say and not what you think they should do about it. Let them know you are there to support them to find solutions. The solutions they come up with might be different from what you would suggest. Generally, people feel more empowered by sorting through solutions with support than by others telling them what to do.

When should a caregiver seek support for their child or youth’s mental health concerns?

If the above efforts do not seem to be sufficient for your child or youth, please seek professional support. Even if you are not sure, no problem is too small. You and your child/youth, either separately or together, can speak with a qualified child and family clinician and discuss strategies and supports. A child and family therapist can help sift through the thoughts and feelings and work with both of you to develop strategies that will fit for your family.

In Dufferin, Dufferin Child and Family Services (DCAFS), offers no-charge service and is open for walk-in sessions on Wednesdays from 12:30 to 6:30pm at 655 Riddell Rd. in Orangeville. If you are under the age of 18 experiencing a crisis call DCAFS 519-941-1530 24/7.

In Guelph Wellington call: HERE4KIDS at 1-844-454-3711 to access support and services for children and families or HERE 24/7 for the mental health crisis line.

If it’s an emergency call 911.

Submitted by Bonnie DePaul
and Catherine Hanenberg

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Bonnie DePaul is director of DCAFS. Catherine Hanenberg is manager of child and youth mental health services for DCAFS. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.