Together We Thrive: Back to School - What to know as our kids return to in person learning

This Together We Thrive article is authored by Zach McDaniel, Prevention Educator for Talbert House Prevention Services serving Clinton & Warren County

It’s that time of year back to school! A busy time in the best of circumstances. But after a year and a half of COVID-19, changing restrictions, isolation and e-learning, what should parents and caregivers expect as we continue to try and move towards a new normal? The truth is we should expect some bumps in the road. Knowing the impact of stress on learning and how adults can help can ensure our children handle this transition successfully.

Stress and its impact on learning
Prior to COVID-19, data showed that youth experience more stress from national news reports than adults. This includes reports such as mass shootings, climate change, immigration, and rising suicide rates. One report by the American Psychological Association indicates that, on average, these subjects negatively impact the stress levels of youth 27% more than adults. Knowing this, we can only begin to imagine the levels of stress youth have experienced throughout the last 18 months. It’s nearly impossible to escape the reality of COVID-19, either in person, or online.  To compound this concern, we know that stress can significantly impact a child’s ability to focus and learn.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Stress
maslow's hierarchy
“Maslow theory of the hierarchy of needs explains how individuals need to meet their basic needs before moving on to meet the needs at the next level. He stated that unmet basic needs also prohibit higher-level needs from being met. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that college students with unmet basic needs on Maslow’s pyramid will result in feeling a greater overall stress than those with unmet needs at higher levels, impacting their learning processes.”

Relationship of the Maslow Needs Hierarchy and Perception of Levels of Stress; Melissa Medina-SanchezDominican University of California

We simply cannot learn under severe stress when our basic needs are not being met. We hear a lot about the importance of feeding kids, providing shelter and clothes - all very important basic needs that must be met for successful learning to take place. But what about the interpersonal, physiological, and emotional basic needs of our youth? Studies show these too are needed for learning to flourish and that an early focus on social-emotional learning skills (SEL) pays dividends in long term academic success. In school and in life, basic needs go well beyond food and shelter; and to ensure our children’s success we need to address their social – emotional development as well!

Emotional needs ARE basic needs
SEL skills are now an official and recognized part of the Ohio state standards. They are taught, monitored, and just as important as math, science, reading or writing.  Strong SEL skills help our kids resolve conflicts, handle complex emotions, bounce back from setbacks and ultimately overcome obstacles- All traits that are more important now than ever.

For parents that means knowing what the SEL standards are, and what skills your child should be working on.  We know when our kids should learn addition, multiplication, and geometry; so why don’t we know when they should be able to solve complex social problems?

The Whole Child Framework
whole child framework

Ohio Social – Emotional Learning Standard Competencies:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Responsible Decision Making

Link for Full Ohio SEL Standards:

The link above navigates to the Full Ohio Social – Emotional Learning Standards and breaks down the skills a child should be focusing on by grade.  As parents it’s our job to make these skills just as important a focus during parent – teacher conferences as any other subject. These skills are what build resilience, grit, and perseverance in our children.

Bridge the gap between school and home
We help our kids with math, science, reading and writing, but how are we helping our kids develop strong self-awareness? Self-management? Relationship skills? Taking an active part by intentionally working on SEL skills at home not only prepares our children to overcome unforeseen obstacles like COVID-19, but also develops personal responsibility and coping skills to deal with the bumps of life. It’s a new kind of homework!

In partnership with the schools, parents, and caregivers can help our children develop the skills necessary to persevere and thrive! See example below:

self management

Teaching these vital skills to our children doesn’t require a degree, formal curriculum, or costly supplies. We just need to know what to do and do it with purpose because it’s what our kids need.

Combatting the Stigma of Mental Health
Youth today report being 40% more likely to seek assistance with mental health concerns than older adults. However, not all children will be comfortable opening up. If you have concerns, communicate in an open, supportive manner. Ask your child how they’re feeling and really listen to their answers. Don’t get upset if your child can’t or won’t open up. Some kids need more time and encouragement than others. If things worsen or you notice any signs or symptoms of severe stress don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider or get in touch with a mental health professional who specializes in treating children and adolescents.

Physical signs of stress

  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting
  • Decreased appetite or Binge eating

Emotional signs of stress

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Clinginess
  • New or recurring fears
  • Decreased concentration or motivation
  • Emotional overreactions to minor incidents
  • Unwillingness to participate in formerly enjoyed activities

Tips for Success

  • Structure/routines
  • Healthy eating
  • Physical activity
  • Brain breaks
  • Emphasizing relaxation
  • Fun!

About Talbert House Prevention Services of Clinton & Warren County
Prevention services develop strong, resilient individuals and communities. Based on the public health model, prevention services equip individuals with the necessary attitudes, behaviors and skills to achieve personal well-being, satisfaction and resilience. Using strength-based approaches and evidence-based models that are culturally aware and sustainable Talbert House works with partners to develop and strengthen conditions that ensure communities are safe places to live and thrive.

Prevention Education for youth and adults in schools and the community including the following topics:

  • Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) curriculum
  • Signs of Suicide (SOS) curriculum
  • Medication Safety
  • Low Risk Alcohol Use
  • Social Emotional Skills
  • Life Skills
  • Professional development/workplace workshops and trainings
  • Information on behavioral health topics and community resources

Talbert House Outpatient for Ages 6+

Lebanon Outpatient Services

204 Cook Road, Lebanon OH 45036

Phone (513) 932-4337

Hours Monday thru Friday, 8:30 am-5:00 pm

For more information contact Zach McDaniel at