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Protecting Keiki Mental Health during Back-To-School: Promoting Mental Health at Home

To assist families with the transition back to school, Keiki Heroes created a three-part blog series centered on supporting keiki mental health. This topic is especially important right now because in addition to usual back-to-school anxiety, the current COVID-19 situation is a major reason why keiki may be experiencing anxiety. 

This blog series on keiki mental health will address: 

1) establishing practices to support positive mental health at home, 

2) signs of mental health distress to look for in keiki, and 

3) developing a plan for keiki to handle anxiety and stressful moments. 

While a certain amount of anxiety about going back to school is normal, we want to support keiki in ways that reduce unnecessary anxiety. Our goal is to assist families in managing keiki stress and anxiety surrounding the return to school so that they can thrive and enjoy their learning experience.

Part 1 Supporting Keiki Mental Health at Home

Below are some suggestions parents can try at home to help lessen the severity of keiki anxiety about returning to school. 

Model positive thinking for keiki

Keiki are more prone to anxiety when those around them are anxious. Because keiki’s emotions often reflect those of people they look up to, parents must look after their own emotional state. It is okay for parents to tell keiki about their own anxiety and uncertainty, but when doing so parents should explain how they cope with these situations. Additionally, focusing on the positive aspects of school, such as what keiki are excited about, can help them develop a more positive attitude toward school.To best take care of their keiki, parents must look after their own mental health. Parents can do this by being kind to themselves and making time to engage in hobbies. This short article by Mental Health First Aid provides five tips for how adults can best support their own mental health as day-to-day life continues to transition back to normal.  

Check-in with keiki often and validate their feelings

To really understand how keiki are doing and feeling, it is important for parents to check-in with their keiki often. Affirming what keiki are feeling, by reassuring them that any worries they have are normal, is also helpful. If keiki express anxiety about school, Psychologist Dr. Mary Alvord recommends that parents remind them that they know it is hard because there are many unknowns about returning to school. Parents should also remind keiki that they’ll be there to help when keiki encounter difficulties. 

Be honest about what’s going on

Although it is natural to want to reassure keiki that everything is going to be okay, it is also important to acknowledge the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and back to school, as well as the reality of the pandemic. Keiki are very observant so parents should acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, while at the same time communicating this information in an age-appropriate manner. Because there is the potential that schools could switch back to remote learning, encouraging keiki to be flexible can help them cope with unexpected changes. 

Establish a consistent routine

Having a consistent routine can help provide structure for keiki and reduce uncertainty about what comes next. Creating a physical schedule of their school day with pictures or drawings is a fun and informative way to help remind keiki what their school day looks like.  

Next week, tune in to read Part 2 of the three-part blog series, which covers how to recognize and address mental health distress in keiki.

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Our Mission

Keiki Heroes promotes health education materials that are culturally relevant and age-appropriate to support the physical, mental, emotional, and social health of children in Hawai‘i. We believe that keiki can be heroes by helping themselves and others to adopt healthy habits to support community health.

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As of 2022, Keiki Heroes became a project under Hawai‘i Public Health Institute.