Giving Compass' Take:

• Here is some guidance for parents on how to support children's mental health during in-person, remote, or small-pod learning to help mitigate challenges during the pandemic. 

• How can schools work with families to address compounding mental health issues? Where can donors offer help? 

• Read how donors can address mental health in the age of COVID-19. 

The choice between in-person learning, where available, and remote learning is a fraught one for parents. Children experience joy and connection when they learn alongside other kids, but they risk being exposed to the coronavirus. Remote learning at home can protect kids from COVID-19, but does it set back their social-emotional development?

The choice between mental or physical health might feel stark. But as a family therapist and professor of educational psychology who studies resilience in families under stress, I can assure you that no single schooling option guarantees a happy, healthy kid or dooms a child to despair.

In fact, much more than schooling context, children’s mental health relies on high-quality relationships within families.

Spending time with other children can benefit children’s mental health, though it’s not clear that group settings are necessary to achieve those gains. Some research from before the pandemic found that home-schooled children experience more academic success and better mental health than kids in school, especially when families maintain ties to religious institutions and community groups. Other studies show no differences or suggest that home-schooled children fall behind their peers. And of course processes within schools during the pandemic will change how children interact.

No matter what the schooling situation, four key components belong in a child’s mental health toolkit. The good news is that parents can support all of these areas as part of in-person, remote, or small-pod learning.

Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. Physical activity, good nutrition, and sleep are all crucial for both. Children need clear bedtime routines and a consistent schedule—especially during times of unease such as now. Children need to go to bed at a similar time each evening and wake up at a similar time each morning.

This guidance applies across ages. Though it’s normal for sleep schedules to shift in adolescence, consistency remains critical. Research increasingly shows that poor sleep hygiene is a central issue in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

Kids who were vulnerable before the pandemic remain vulnerable. But mental health risk factors are largely the same for children whether in school or learning from home.

Any changes, even happy ones, can create stress. Good mental health is the ability to adapt. The strategies in this toolkit can help children adapt and cope with stress, whether because of the pandemic, economic inequities, racism, unaddressed special needs, or interpersonal problems within a family.

Read the full article about mental health by Erika Bocknek at YES! Magazine.