In a recent online survey conducted by Children’s Mental Health Ontario, 90% of parents indicated they are experiencing stress and worries about the start of the school year – 64% of whom indicated they are ‘extremely’ worried.
The poll, created to get a sense of how parents were feeling about the start of the school year, was shared through Children’s Mental Health Ontario online networks and social media. There were 761 respondents from across Ontario with representation from various ethnic communities including Black, Indigenous, and other Persons of Colour. The majority of respondents indicated they have elementary-aged children in Grades 1 – 8.
Seventy-six per cent noted that they are a parent or caregiver of a child /children with mental health concerns. Overwhelmingly, the majority of parents (82%) indicated that they are concerned about their child’s mental health when they return to school.
Planning for the start of the school year has been an exceptionally stressful time for parents as there has been a lot of uncertainties and unknowns relating to schooling during a pandemic. More than 80% noted that this school year is more stressful than other years due to concerns about COVID-19.
There are key overarching themes around the issues they raised. In general, parents are concerned about:
- How pandemic prevention measures in class will impact their child’s mental wellness
- Changes in regular school programming will impact their child’s mental wellness
- Their family’s risk of COVID
- Overall back-to-school planning, for example: choosing remote or in-class
- The overall transition back to school
Specifically, when asked what concerns parents have about their children returning to school, here is what they said:
- 15% say their child has expressed anxiety or worries about returning to school because of COVID-19
- 12% say their child is uncomfortable with/has difficulty with/is worried about participating in measures to prevent transmission of the virus, including mask-wearing, consistent hand-washing, and physical distancing
- 20% are concerned the impact physical distancing and other prevention measures in the classroom could have on my child’s mental wellness
- 17% are concerned about the loss of school activities, clubs, extra-curriculars will have on my child’s mental wellness
- 22% are worried about increased risk of my family’s chance of getting COVID-19
- 9% indicate there is no childcare or limited childcare options if child does not return to class in school full-time
Other worries and concerns
From remote learning to how their child will transition back to school after being away so long, parents noted a variety of other concerns they are facing. For some parents of children with mental health needs, they raised concerns that teachers won’t be able to provide the emotional support or comfort that can be necessary in particularly stressful times. We heard from several parents of children with autism concerns that non-verbal children won’t be able to express themselves or connect with teachers when they are masked.
Potential impacts on their children’s opportunities for socializing or access to support networks was also flagged by many parents. Some noted concerns about socializing and changes to their support networks, for example, the possibility that their kids won’t see their friends because of cohorting; others are concerned they will lose their ability to see grandparents because of new risks being taken at school.
What would help parents?
Primarily, parents raised concerns that they aren’t getting enough information or answers from educators to their very important questions about health and safety issues in the classroom.
We heard from other parents of children who have special needs or considerations including physical developments, autism, mental illness, and parents who themselves are at-risk, that they need more guidance and support from educators and mental health experts for transitioning their children back to school.
CMHO acknowledges that there’s no one-size-fits-all back-to-school “manual” to guide your decision-making at this time. It’s a matter of figuring out what will work best for each child and family in this moment—while accepting that the situation is likely to continue to evolve over time.
To do our part to help parents in this difficult time, CMHO has created the Back-to-School Tool Kit for Mental Wellness.
Back-to-School Tool Kit for Mental Wellness
Our tool kit contains various resources and tips to help you and your family navigate these uncertain times.
Look for tips, resources, and information to help moms, dads, and caregivers
- Back-to-School Parenting in a Pandemic with practical tips to help parents now
- Parenting Survival Guide by Ann Douglas on caring for children with mental illness
- Understanding how the pandemic has affected the mental health of children and youth
Look for these tips and resources to help your child prepare for the start of the school year
- Navigating the school system: getting supports at school for your child with mental health issues
- Six tips to support mental wellness and help your child prepare for the start of the school year
- Supporting children’s mental wellness while encouraging pandemic prevention measures
- Tips for encouraging and supporting friendships during the school year