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NDT - Monitoring Your Student’s Mental Health - August 20

Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 10:26 AM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Back-to-school may feel a little different this year. Following a year that included virtual learning and many unknowns, the majority children will make their way back in to the classroom. While that will bring a taste of normalcy, that isn’t the case for all. It’s important to remember that youth and adults are both learning to cope with emotions and feelings related to the experiences of the past year.  Joining us to talk about kids mental health are Sanford Health child psychologists Dr. Emily Sargent and Dr. Katelyn Mickelson.

What can parents and teachers expect to see out of children as the school year begins?

  • As is usually the case with children, the range of emotions will differ. While some kids thrived with more isolation and remote learning, others have become disengaged, uninspired and lonely.
  • Some are grieving the loss of a loved one, and some are dealing with financial impacts to their family.
  • Some kids and teens enter the school year with energy and excitement to see friends, classmates and teacher again, however, others may feel exhausted from the stress and loneliness.
  • Let your children know you are experiencing the same range of emotions and stresses. Be open. When you show emotions, feelings and use healthy ways to cope, you are setting an example for your child for how to process their feelings.

Why is it important to get your children back in to routines?

  • Pandemic life caused many families to shape up their rules and routines. This led to increased screen time, later bedtimes, and eating and drinking in less healthy ways than usual.
  • Try re-establishing daily routines that support healthy habits. This includes regular sleep and wake times, family meals and clear responsibilities and consequences.
  • Support re-entry to more rigorous academics and try to not to pressure your child too much. Help them build confidence as learners and remind them to ask questions and to speak up if they need help.
  • Consider setting up playdates for younger children to work on social skills. If your child is feeling social anxiety, help them set goals to practice doing things that make them nervous. Encourage them to work through, rather than avoid, situations that cause them to worry more than the situation calls for.

What are some signs of mental health problems parents should be looking out for?

  • Mental health problems are common in children and teens. If your child develops a problem, it’s not your or your child’s fault.
  • Be alert to early signs, including feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks, severe mood swings, changes in eating or sleeping habits or sudden, overwhelming fear for no reason.
  • If your child shows one or more of these signs, talk to their doctor right away. It’s best to notice a problem early on and get the right treatment to support your child just as you would for a broken bone.
  • Schedule missed health care visits. Physical health and mental health are intertwined, so support your child’s overall wellness by scheduling check-ups and dental visits that you may have missed. Be sure your child’s immunizations are current and that they’re getting regular screening for behavioral health issues and developmental milestones.

Besides seeking medical help, what are some other ways to help with your children’s mental health?

  • Focus on the things that you can control. Set goals, reach out to others, practice gratitude and take time to simply breathe deeply. Give yourself and your child grace.
  • Offer specific and meaningful praise when you see your child or teen working through tough times. Praise their determination when they struggle with an assignment, get frustrated, take a break and come back to it again later.
  • Keep listening, observing and checking in. Ask questions and listen more than you talk. Make time and space to be together.

COVID-19 vaccines are a big topic, especially among our youth. How should parents talk to kids about the COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Make sure you’re up to date yourself. Before talking to your children, it is important that you understand them yourself.
  • Ask and listen. Invite your child to share what they have heard about COVID-19 vaccines and listen to their responses. Stay fully engaged and take any fears they have seriously. Let them know they can always talk to you about their concerns.
  • Be honest with them. Children have a right to know what is going on, but it should be explained to them in an age-appropriate way.
  • Answer their questions.

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