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Supporting Kids’ Mental Health for Back to School

By: Parker Huston, PhD
Clinical Director, On Our Sleeves
Pediatric Psychologist

As families and their children prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, there’s no doubt your students will have questions as they start school.

Whether it be in-person, remote or a hybrid model, they will have varying levels of understanding about returning to school in person, as well as changes to school routines and safety procedures.

Here are five tips on how to support your students to ensure you start the school year off right:

  1. Answer questions honestly. “Do I still need to wear a mask?” “Why is my friend Sam not back to school in-person yet?” Sometimes we try to minimize the truth when answering difficult questions, but this can lead to more confusion and concern. So, answer students’ questions honestly and to the best of your ability. If you don’t have an answer, that’s ok, too! Let them know you’ll work to find the answer for them.
  2. Talk about safety practices. Explain the reasoning behind continued safety measures. For example: You can tell them “it’s very important to wash your hands often to keep our germs to ourselves and keep everyone healthy so you can keep coming to school.”
  3. Focus on mental wellness. Spend time each day talking about mental wellness. Let them know it’s ok to talk to you, a parent or another trusted adult about how they are feeling. On Our Sleeves, the movement for children’s mental health, has lots of activities and resources for teachers and parents at
  4. Support their social-emotional learning. It’s more important than ever to build in time to talk about social-emotional themes like empathy, communication, coping, and emotion identification and regulation. If you or your students are still wearing masks, this conversation may include how to express yourself with hand gestures or verbal communication. Learn more about how to talk to students about their emotions.
  5. Continue to support virtual students. If some of your students continue online learning while many of their peers return to school in person, it may be challenging for them. They may experience feelings of isolation or sadness. Do your best to include your virtual students in classroom activities and foster connections with their peers.

Additional Free Mental Health Resources for Teachers

We know you, as educators, play an integral role in helping children’s mental health.

That’s why On Our Sleeves launched the Million Classroom Project. The goal is to get free mental health resources, developed by our behavioral health experts, to one million elementary and middle school classrooms across the country in 2021. Educational materials that focus on boosting children’s mental health and overall wellness in all grade levels – and helping their entire support system along the way.

  • Click here to download the FREE Supporting Kids in the Classroom guide, which includes information and activities on gratitude, kindness, self-care and more.

About On Our Sleeves
The mission of On Our Sleeves is to provide every community in America access to free, evidence-informed educational resources necessary for breaking stigmas about child mental health and educating families and advocates. For more information, visit

About Dr. Parker Huston
Parker Huston, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and Clinical Director of the On Our Sleeves program. He is also a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University Medical School. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Miami University of Ohio, then earned a master’s and doctoral degree from Michigan State University. He is passionate about group level and population level interventions to improve mental health and prevent mental illness for children and families.