Mental health the focus of Raimondo’s latest back-to-school forum

School Updates

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the school year approaches, many local students, parents, and teachers likely have some degree of anxiety when it comes to resuming classes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

That’s why, this week, Gov. Gina Raimondo invited a pair of pediatric behavioral health experts to join her and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green for their latest virtual forum on reopening schools.

Raimondo said she received more than 300 questions from Rhode Islanders for Thursday’s event which featured Dr. Jennifer Jencks, the director of the Access Center at Bradley Hospital, and social worker Barbara Austin.

One of the best things that parents and teachers can do is regulate their own emotions, according to Jencks.

“Children do watch what is going on around them,” she said. “If you are working really hard to regulate your own emotions and take care of yourself physically, the kids will naturally pick up on that and try to do that more as well.”

“It will also provide a sense of comfort and control at a time that there isn’t a lot of control for them,” Jencks continued.

Jencks said talking to children about the pandemic can also help them feel more in control, as long as you keep it age appropriate. She suggested creating expectations for the household and making decisions as a group.

“The more you talk about it, you normalize we are all going through this experience,” she explained. “By working together as a team and talking about it, coming up with ideas and changing those ideas, you are modeling some excellent coping strategies that will be with them for the long haul.”

Jencks recommended demonstrating the ease of going about daily life while wearing a mask and leading by example.

“The more you go out into the world and you practice recognizing every movement, every action, everything that you do is not going to be a harmful one, then you become desensitized to the experience,” she added.

Rewards can be used to help encourage kids to wear masks and make it fun, instead of scary, Austin said. She suggested role-playing to help students prepare for situations that may happen at school, such as being pressured about their masks.

Infante-Green said they’ve been asked a lot about kindergartners, since concepts like social distancing may be hard for them to grasp.

We must remember, Jencks replied, that the younger a person is, the more adaptive they can be.

“One of the most important things to think about, I think, with kindergartners is, their brains are developing based on their social and emotional interactions with others,” she explained. “So some concrete things people can do is to really make sure they are having uninterrupted time, one-on-one, with their children, or one-on-one time on the screen with their students so that they can be giving that individualized attention, helping the child feel engaged.”

Infante-Green announced they’re launching a new app with games to help normalize going back to school. She said it will be available in multiple languages on Back2SchoolRI.com.

In addition, for anyone who needs mental health assistance, the Kids’ Link hotline is available 24/7 at (855) 543-5465.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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