After the COVID-19 pandemic emptied classrooms across the country, some students were hesitant to return to in-person learning. In this Verywell Mind article, Mindpath Health’s Zishan Khan, MD, offers tips to prepare kids to for the return to school.
It’s natural for kids to feel apprehensive about going back to school, but those worries might be a little more challenging these days. According to recent research, the mental health of kids living in the US is in crisis.
A survey found that 54% of parents are at least somewhat concerned about their kid’s mental health. About 35% said their child had shown signs of struggle or emotional distress at least once a week.
Mental health is complex, with many contributing factors, but the survey found that school is the biggest contributing factor to children’s stress, closely followed by feeling misunderstood, friendships, and the pandemic.
Here’s what your kid might be worrying about, and how to help them.
Ongoing COVID-19 stress
A 2020 survey reported that 71% of parents said the pandemic had taken a toll on their child’s mental health. Plus, 69% said the pandemic was the worst thing to happen to their child.
Stress relating to COVID-19 is understandable, says Zishan Khan, MD, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. “It’s very common for children to continue to have anxiety regarding life now that things are slowly improving since the beginning of the pandemic,” he says.
This anxiety doesn’t necessarily only have to do with a fear of getting sick or spreading the virus to others. “Lots of children struggle with having to return to school after getting comfortable with virtual learning and having to leave the safety and comfort of their home,” Dr. Khan says.
Dr. Khan continues, “They may have developed poor habits as a result of unstructured daily living or lack of their usual discipline that they normally would have had during the school year when they attended in person.”
Many people may not truly realize how the ability to socialize and connect with others has been impacted by the pandemic. “A lot of children find it difficult to interact with their peers and have a lot of anxiety around large groups of people, simply due to not being used to it any longer,” says Dr. Khan.
Picking up on adult worries
The more we understand about children’s mental health, the more we realize that so-called “adult” worries have a massive impact on the youngest members of our families too.
Issues that affect parents have a trickle-down effect on kids for several reasons. “If parents are stressed, kids will pick up on that,” says Morin.
Educating your child about anxiety helps them learn to recognize the physical and emotional symptoms they’re experiencing. And modeling healthy coping skills, like exercising, doing something creative, or talking about your feelings, equips with crucial tools for the rest of their life.
Helping your child transition back to school
Whatever is at the root of your child’s back-to-school worries, you can do several things to help make the transition less stressful.
Doreen Marshall, PhD, recommends encouraging your child to connect to their school’s mental health resources, learn what services are available, and utilize them when needed.
Remember, your child won’t be the only one feeling like this, and by having an open, honest conversation about mental health you can normalize taking proactive steps to protect their mental health and build resiliency.
The occasional mental health day can be helpful if it’s used to help your child reset, learn new coping skills, or get treatment for mental health.
“Avoidance makes anxiety worse,” she says. “Allowing a child to stay home to avoid giving a presentation in front of the class only provides temporary relief.”
Read the full Verywell Mind article with sources.
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