When I was young I hated going back to school and leaving summer vacation behind. I would get anxious about the new year, wondering what friends I’d have in my class and which teacher I’d get. Then I would worry about hypothetical tests and projects that I just knew I’d get bad grades on. There was such a heaviness when school rolled around, erasing all the tranquility I had acquired that summer.
I can’t imagine what it’s like as a kid now. They’re dealing with so much more: the pandemic, trauma of frequent school shootings and increased bullying. It’s scary, and it’s something that none of our generations have seen before.
So here’s what I’m going to do with my soon-to-be second grader and kindergartener to help with the transition. I hope it helps our collective mental health.
- We’re going to get back into our school routine, ie waking up earlier, getting dressed first thing and eating (a healthy-ish) breakfast.
- We’ll talk about what’s making them nervous. Both of my kids have new teachers this year, so I know that’s a source of anxiety. I’ll make it known that we can talk about that and anything else that’s bothering them.
- Empathize with my kids. I need to listen and show empathy. I’ll try not to brush off their feelings; instead, I’ll validate their worries and concerns.
- I’ll encourage my kids to talk about their fears or how their day went, but I won’t badger. I’ll also give them tips on self-care and healthy coping skills and how it can help their stress levels.
- I’ll be present. When my kids get home, I’ll push my work aside, put my phone away and concentrate on them. They may want alone time to decompress, but they will know that I’m available at any time.
I hope others will join me in making space for their children’s mental health – it’s not just my kids who are affected. A poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) finds that an overwhelming number of parents support mental health education in schools and “mental health days” for their children.
More:For kids, taking a ‘Mental Health Day’ makes a difference. Here’s why.
In the poll, parents noted their children felt an increase in feelings during the pandemic, including:
• anxious (20%)• irritated (19%)• sad (14%)• unable to concentrate (13%)• less interested in social activities (12%)• out of control (10%)
It’s important to note that most parents reported few changes in their kids’ activities and behaviors since the pandemic began, but those who reported changes saw more negative behavior. They said their kids:
• spend more time on screens (41%)• participate less in school activities (37%)• play or exercise less (25%)• are getting less sleep (16%)
It’s a challenging time for all of us, but our children should come first. If you notice your child’s behavior changing, seek help. You can start with your child’s doctor or guidance counselor. Below you’ll find signs of anxiety in kids. I wish everyone a happy school year. I’m just hoping I can get through my son’s kindergarten year without crying. Take care, my friends.
Signs of Anxiety in Kids (NAMI.org)• Appearing more clingy than normal• Restless and fidgety• Complaining of stomachaches• Changes in eating and sleeping habits• Expressing negative thoughts or worries• Getting upset or angry more quickly• Having tips of unexplained crying• Struggling to concentrate
For more than 20 years, Heather Loeb has experienced major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, while also battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Taskforce.
Now more than ever we need to take care of our mental health. Guest columnist Heather Loeb discusses why and explores other important mental health topics in this special series.