As some students prepare to go back to school, psychologists and mental health experts say that in the post-pandemic period, it has become even more important to keep an eye on your children’s mental health and behaviours especially during this back-to-school season. Today, more than ever, when back-to-school time is around the corner, children develop back to school jitters. Some get excited to get back to the classroom while others get nervous or downright anxious. These signs became even more visible after the first back-to-school period that followed the Covid-19 pandemic. A study done in the U.S showed that anxiety among kids may not look the same as in adults because children sometimes have trouble expressing their worries and troubles as adults do, but it exists. They go on about their lives as though nothing is happening but deep down, they are anxious, whether it is about starting a new school or being nervous about a new grade. According to Antoinette Mugabekazi, a teacher based in Kigali, it is not common for African parents, even if they are modern, to acknowledge their child’s mental health and emotional concerns, simply because they are children. These signs are even more evident after the long holiday at the end of the academic year. In Rwanda, some children will go back to school at the end of August or early September, whether they study under the national curriculum or under other systems like Cambridge. According to Mugabekazi, this is a period parents concentrate more on key things like looking for school fees and scholastic materials and forget to pay attention to the personal needs of the children. However, this has to change if parents and guardians have to give their children a good head start for the academic year. Below are few things you can do to make a difference as your child goes back to school. Prepare them mentally early on It is important for parents and guardians to prepare children for the back-to-school period very early, as this is the best way to lower their anxiety and nervousness. Begin discussing lightly about the fact that they are about to go back to school and talk about the new academic year. Observe their reaction once you are having a discussion. Do they look or sound worried? Do they have trouble concentrating on the conversation? Observe these changes. Some children will develop stomach-aches, headache, changes in eating and sleeping habits and all these could be signs of anxiety. The little ones will get extra clingy and moody or even openly cry when the idea of going back to school is mentioned. Parents and guardians can find ways of talking to them softly and convincingly about the good things to expect when they go back to school such as meeting friends, teachers, playing games, etc. Be involved and proactive When a parent or guardian is fully involved in the process of going back to school, it eases the pressure and nerves on children. When you are involved in preparing them ahead of time, their minds will be at ease and it will make them a little more comfortable as school approaches. Check on them regularly, ask them open-ended questions about how they feel ahead of going back to school and what they are looking forward to. Experts say the pandemic did not only cause widespread disruption to learning, it also heavily affected the mental health of school going children. Worldwide, millions of teenagers have reported persistently feeling sad, hopeless or even depressed. School adds more pressure and the majority have to deal with the syndrome of ‘busy parents’ who have little time to individually attend to their children’s emotional and mental health needs. Engage them, talk to them regularly and be present. This will not only give them a huge boost, it will also prepare them to begin the new academic year with confidence since they know they have your backing. Co-curricular activities While this could be a little too late now, research showed that children who engage in co-curricular activities during holidays such as sports and games, summer camps and other activities that ensure that they stay in touch with their peers during the break, easily transition into the academic year. If the school has sports facilities which are open during holidays, allow them to often go there to participate in the games, whether it is football, basketball, volleyball and others. By keeping themselves busy and in close contact with age mates and friends, they automatically stay in the ‘school mode’, which means that they won’t have any jitters when the time to go back to school comes. Be supportive, instead of being tough Some parents or guardians believe they can push their children to be the best academically and to behave well and sometimes this can be counterproductive. That is when teenagers become rebellious, for example, and do the opposite of what they are expected of. With all the mental health challenges and anxiety, the best you can do to your child is to be supportive instead of being the tough dad or mum you always are. Take time and ask them questions to understand how they are doing, mix in the good and the bad to get a full picture. What do you enjoy most at school? What do don’t you like? Is there something you hate at school? You will be surprised how they will open up to you about a certain teacher who makes them hate a certain subject or another pupil who bullied them. This will help you to deal with the issues and fears they face as they go back to school.