For the millions of students returning to school, the onset of the Delta variant couldn’t have come at a worse time.

On top of the ‘normal’ stress about schoolwork, social relationships, and competitive sports, the rapidly emerging challenges around COVID-19 only add to the uncertainty that youth and families are feeling.

Fortunately, two of Blue Shield of California’s mental health experts are here to share tips on how to prepare for what could be a chaotic next few months while we all move from the ‘new normal’ to the ‘next normal.’

Jennifer Christian-Herman, Ph.D., Blue Shield of California Executive Director of Mind Body Medicine – Behavioral Health

“As youth return to school, it is critical to focus on their mental health needs. One of the silver linings of COVID-19, is that people are much more comfortable talking about their feelings and how hard it has been. According to our new poll of California middle- and high-school students ages 13-18, more than half (54%) talked about their mental health with a friend this past year, and just under half (46%) said the same for parents/guardians.

JCH headshot
Jennifer Christian-Herman, Ph.D.

“These conversations continue to be important. Carve out time to check in with your family and encourage your children and teens to have those conversations about how they are feeling returning to school.

“‘Zooming’ for nearly 18 months not only impacted social development, but also academic achievement. Nearly 8 in 10 respondents say they are nervous about getting good grades in school. Communication is key. Try to maintain an open dialogue in your household as you get ready for that first day back, or if you’re already back in school, ask ‘How is that going?’ Help your children find their words to describe their feelings.

“Collaborate with your child’s teachers about your concerns, and don’t forget to ask how they are doing, as well. It’s a team effort when it comes to early education. Remind your children to touch base with their new teachers if they are overwhelmed. This can help them recognize that they are not alone in facing the challenge of returning to full-time learning.

“Everyone is trying their best to protect our children and maintain a sense of normalcy this school year. The good news is that they are returning to classrooms, and we know much more now than we did at the start of the pandemic.”

David W. Bond, Blue Shield of California Director of Behavioral Health

“Most young people and adults are not quite sure about what to expect from the upcoming school year as news about the pandemic continues to evolve. According to our recent survey, most students (79%) are anxious about getting good grades in school. The risk of catching COVID-19 in school (71%) or in other situations (71%), and the effects of climate change (68%) were cited as current concerns.

David Bond

“Managing change, both the highs and lows, can be rough, and this year’s back-to-school transition is unlike any other. I recommend reintroducing routines so that children feel consistency and know what to expect. Stick to bedtimes, healthy eating habits, and exercise to provide stability.

“Young people are amazing at picking up on our emotions and moods. Even in the face of challenges, remember to stay optimistic as much as possible about school and learning. And remember, parents and teachers, to take time for your own mental wellbeing: activities like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help lower your stress. Relieve stress by engaging in non-screen-time activities, and make time for creative and active play like sports, games or art.”

Visit BlueSky to learn about our recent study and to find additional mental health tips and resources on youth anxiety, stress, trauma, and depression.