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In this rapidly evolving landscape of COVID-19, please see available resources to our members and families.
A first responder’s family already has enough reason for worry on a regular basis, but knowing you’re leaving the house every day to enter a potentially risky health environment is new stress.  
Back to School Strategies for Kids and Parents

 By | Handley, Kyle #5926


The back-to-school season this year is sure to be different from any other we have experienced as parents.  With the concerns around coronavirus continuing into the fall and new restrictions and guidelines in place for students, children are likely to have a lot of questions and concerns about returning.

Here are a few strategies gathered from Anxiety Canada and the Child Mind Institute for parents and children returning to school this fall to make the best of the upcoming academic year.

Some of the Most Important Aspects of Schooling Aren't Always Learned in Class

Returning to the school setting may be an anxiety-provoking thought for parents and kids, but it offers an environment that is essential to development that cannot be easily recreated at home.  Socialization, physical activity, and building independence are all key to a child's growth and can be best served in a school setting. 

If your child is anxious about being around others when school starts, validate their concerns (“I know you're worried about getting too close to your friends and getting sick") and be honest and encouraging (“You're going to do great because you know all the important ways to stay safe, like not hugging and washing your hands") to help build excitement while maintaining a feeling of safety.  Try to avoid blanket reassurances (“Everything will be fine, there's nothing to worry about") as these can lead to them feeling confused and may create a need for constant reassurance to feel safe.

Praise and Reward Courageousness

There is no amount of preparation or encouragement that will completely eliminate the anxiety or uncertainty a child will feel returning to school.  The reminders that this year is different will be all around them, from the masks they see others wearing (or are wearing themselves if they are above a certain age) or the various other distancing restrictions they will follow in their classrooms.  Knowing that students will be returning to class despite this uncertainty should be acknowledged by parents as a significant step and one that you know will be hard for them.  Be sure to speak with your children when they return from school, especially in the first few days and weeks, and tell them that you are proud of them for facing their fears while being courageous and safe in how they approached school.

Model Good Coping Behaviours by Being Calm, Honest, and Caring

As with any anxiety-provoking situation, children will look to their parents to understand how they should react.  If you are calm, honest, and excited about the approaching school year, children will feed off that energy and feel more confident as they go back.  Children may have questions about the upcoming school year and it is best to acknowledge that there is still a lot of unknowns (“Will we stay for the whole year? Will I still be able to play sports with my friends after school? Can we go on field trips like last year?").  Be open with your children about your own anxieties and uncertainties as well as how you are coping with them (“I was nervous about going back to work at first too, but I followed the rules and made sure I washed my hands and kept my distance and I felt a lot better after a few days").  This can make them feel less alone and give them a guide for how to handle similar situations in a positive way.

Get Back to Basis with a Few Key Priorities

Everyone recognizes that this school year will be different than what children are used to.  As a result, expectations and goals should be adjusted to reflect the added pressure kids will be facing this year.  Is there a key area that they struggled with during remote learning in the spring?  Is there a subject that they would really benefit from spending some extra time with the teacher?  Focus in on the opportunities that in-person instruction provides to keep their development on track in a few key areas.  If you are not certain which areas to focus on, math, reading, and writing are commonly understood to be the most important to cultivate early on in school as these skills support their success in other subjects like science and social studies.

If Schooling from Home, Try to Keep the Teacher and Parent Roles Separate

Juggling being a parent, an employee, and a teacher (among many other roles) can be very difficult when everyone is working from home together.  For younger children, it can be critical to set clear boundaries around these roles for your comfort and theirs.  Set aside specific times to focus on homework or schooling together and times you can focus on being a parent.  By balancing times when you are “homework dad or mom" with “playing games outside dad or mom", children can better understand what is needed from them at different times and also gives everyone defined times to work and separate times to relax and have fun.

As always, if you have any questions about the return to school or how to cope, please don't hesitate to reach out and contact our Wellness resources:  Peer Support, Psychological Services, Chaplaincy, Employee and Family Assistance Program, or your external mental health provider – we are all here to help: 


Peer Support: or ext. 7337


Managing Coronavirus Anxiety 
by Dr. Kyle Handley - YRP Lead Psychologist, Psych Services

What is the ​normal amount of anxiety or stress to be feeling about COVID-19?​

​There is a certain amount of anxiety around coronavirus that is appropriate.  This type of anxiety is the kind that makes you think about washing your hands more often, rethinking travel plans, and self-isolating if you find yourself becoming sick or you have had exposure to a confirmed case.

However, this anxiety can also escalate very quickly into irrational fears or panic, especially when the fear is shared and discussed with others.  It is okay, and even necessary, to discuss how to react and prepare for coronavirus, but it should not be the only topic of conversation at work or at home.  One of the best things we can offer one another is an opportunity to feel connected on a level other than coronavirus and to give each other a break from the constant conversation.  When not planning or preparing, make sure to balance your interactions with others and focus on a positive in your life or theirs.

*Anxiety is only necessary when it is functional.  Use the anxiety you may be feeling to engage in positive protective behaviors, such as hand washing, but avoid anxiety from building by not making coronavirus the only topic you think about or talk about with others.

Is there anything I can do to feel more in control?

When there is a large scale event like coronavirus, it can feel like so many things are happening all at once that are outside our control.  We can get consumed with “what ifs?" that stems from how quickly things are moving and how little we know about how they will progress. 

One useful strategy to use in these situations is one many at YRP have already been taught – W.I.N. or What's Important Now?  By applying this to coronavirus concerns, it can help us to think more clearly about what we have control over in our “sphere of influence" and what we need to focus on first.  For example, we can significantly reduce our personal risk of infection by washing our hands regularly and properly, avoiding large gatherings when we can, and not touching our faces during the day.

*Focus on the things in your life that you do have control over, such as hand washing, by remembering the What's Important Now? (W.I.N.) principle.

How does the news contribute to my anxiety?

​The situation with coronavirus is evolving very quickly and it is easy to find ourselves constantly monitoring the 24 hour news networks, refreshing our twitter feeds, or reading reactions on Facebook, but this type of constant checking can make anxiety worse. 

In quick moving stories like this one, there is often as much misinformation as accurate reporting, partly because there is still so much that isn't known.  Our brains tend to be very uncomfortable with the unknown, so we seek out as much information as possible, hoping that we will find an answer that make us feel more comfortable or at least helps us better plan.  When the information we find is inaccurate or incomplete, it can feed into the “worst case scenario" we tend to naturally come up with in our mind when we are feeling stressed.

*Try to limit your consumption of media to certain times of the day and seek out reliable sources such as Health Canada.

What should I do if I can't use the coping I usually do, like spending time with friends, watching sports, or going to concerts?

​One of the biggest challenges that comes with the coronavirus precautions is that it isolates us from the people in our lives and some activities that we often use to relieve our stress.  If we are used to unwinding by watching a basketball game after work or meeting a friend at the movie theater, we may be temporarily unable to use these strategies during a very stressful time. 

This will challenge us to find new ways to stay connected with one another and to broaden our available coping skills under these new limitations.  We are fortunate to live in a time where we can see our loved ones face to face at the touch of a button through technology like FaceTime and Skype, to help give us a sense of closeness even if we can't be together in person.  We can also rely on activities that are proven to reduce anxiety, such as going for a run, doing body weight exercises at home, or spending time in nature.

One important point – many will respond to the social distance and more limited options by drinking more or using other substances to help with coping.  This is a time to be very mindful of not increasing drinking habits out of boredom or to fill time normally occupied by other activities.​

*Be mindful of not increasing drinking habits, find new ways to stay connected with close family and friends, and stay active in the ways you can.

What should I tell my children who are worried about coronavirus?

​Children are very susceptible to high anxiety in the wake of coronavirus as they don't have the same ability to reason and understand as adults.  Because of this, children will mirror their parents and caregivers in how they are responding, especially to see how they are responding emotionally.  

We can be strong supports to our children by being calm and reassuring in our reactions, especially when they are present.  They will have a lot of questions about what is going on and will greatly benefit from spending extra time with them to hear their concerns.  As with our own media consumption, it may be helpful to monitor how much and how often they are checking social media, particularly if it is making them more anxious.  Being honest and accurate in the information you provide them is the best way to help manage their anxiety about what is happening.

*Children will look to parents and caregivers to know how to react to and cope with the coronavirus events.  Be calm, reassuring, available, honest, and accurate in your conversations to help build their confidence and sense of security.

Morneau Shepell Resources

  1. Our latest bulletins on services available to you and your employees can be found here.  This is updated regularly:  Morneau Shepell Services During COVID-19

  2. Communications to share with your employees:  Protecting Yourself and Others During COVID-19 and Tips for Coping with COVID-19

  3. Highlight to employees that EFAP does not stop during pandemics.  We rely more heavily on alternate modalities of counselling; I have attached a poster reminds employees of those options, should they need support but are anxious about face to face contact.



What is Novel Coronavirus?

A new flu-like coronavirus has been reported in several cities around the world in recent weeks. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms of this Coronavirus usually include:
• Feeling tired
• Difficulty breathing
• A high temperature
• A cough and/or sore throat

These symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases, including flu and the common cold. Symptoms are thought to appear between two and 10 days after contracting the virus. The incubation period during which a person has the disease but is not exhibiting symptoms can be between one day and two weeks. It's possible that the virus can be passed on to others during the incubation period before the person carrying starts to exhibit symptoms.

When to seek medical help
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, if you have traveled to the province of Hubei, China and:
• visited a live animal market
• had contact with live or dead animals (including raw or undercooked animal products)
• had contact with a sick person who had fever, cough, or difficulty breathing you may have come in contact with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

If you develop
• fever
• cough
• difficulty breathing in the next 14 days, call your health care provider or local public health authority, tell them of your symptoms and that you were travelling in the province of Hubei, China. They will provide advice on what you should do. To protect those around you, wash your hands often and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

How to avoid getting the Novel Coronavirus

Hand hygiene is the first and most important line of defence. The WHO recommends:
• washing hands with soap and water
• carry disposable tissues with you, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue carefully
• avoiding any unnecessary physical contact with wild animals.

If you've been in contact with wild animals, the WHO recommends you wash your hands immediately. It's also essential to ensure that your meat is cooked thoroughly before consuming it.

Other tips include:
• Carry a hand sanitizer with you to make frequent cleaning of hands easy
• Always wash your hands before you eat
• Be especially careful in busy airports and other public transport systems about touching things and then touching your face
• Do not share snacks from packets or bowls that others are dipping their fingers into
• Regularly clean, not just your hands, but commonly used surfaces and devices you touch or handle

Are some groups of people more at risk than others? 

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment may change daily. You can follow updates based on your region: Sites that include accurate information include the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada; the US Centers for Disease Control (USCDC); the Australian Chief Medical Officer, and the UK government.

How to protect your family, especially children
You can significantly lower the risk that children pose of spreading or catching viruses by:
• Explaining to them how germs spread and the importance of good hand and face hygiene
• Keeping household surfaces clean, especially kitchens, bathrooms and door handles
• Using clean cloths to wipe surfaces, so you don't transfer germs from one surface to another
• Giving everyone their own towel and making sure they know not to share toothbrushes etc
• Keep your home dry and airy (bugs thrive in musty environments)

What to do if you are stressed because of the news
If you're feeling nervous about the coronavirus, you're not alone. Being concerned and empathetic about this outbreak is normal. However, you may experience feelings of discomfort, impacting concentration, productivity and even disrupting sleep patterns.

What you can do to feel better
Stick to the facts as communicated by public-health agencies or medical professionals. Instead of reading every article and going to every website, staying away from the web is probably a good idea. If you're concerned, sites that include accurate information include the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada; the US Centers for Disease Control (USCDC); the Australian Chief Medical Officer, and the UK government.
• Try and keep it in perspective. Social media can amplify misinformation. Keep in mind that there's a concerted global effort to try and contain this virus, and the World Health Organization is maintaining a webpage with answers to common questions.
• And, of course, stay healthy. Washing your hands often, and properly is the single most effective way to stop the spread of disease

Where can I find out more information?

At this time, it's unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people. The World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating the international response to the situation and is providing more information here. You can find reliable information for your country through the following agencies: the Public Health Agency of Canada; the US Centres for Disease Control (USCDC); the Australian Chief Medical Officer, and the UK government.

Access your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at






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