The 2021-2022 school year is well underway, and it is being met with mixed emotions. Anxiety, excitement, stress, fear, joy, worry – and this is all within the same hour for many parents! This “new normal” we have been hearing about has arrived and we are just starting to get to know each other.
As our students are returning to full-time in-person learning, they are facing challenges related to the ongoing health, economic, and social consequences of the pandemic. Children may be uniquely impacted by the pandemic, having experienced this crisis during important periods of physical, social, and emotional development. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children’s mental health concerns have increased and utilization of mental health services has decreased since the start of the pandemic. The pandemic caused disruptions in routines, as well as social isolation for children, which can be associated with anxiety and depression and can have implications for mental health later in life. Research also has shown that as economic conditions worsen, children’s mental health is negatively impacted. Parents with young children reported in October and November of 2020 that their children showed elevated symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological stress and 22% experienced overall worsened mental or emotional health. Recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find children’s emergency department visits increased during the pandemic for mental health-related emergencies and suspected suicide attempts by children ages 12 to 17. At the same time, mental health service utilization has declined, with preliminary data for Medicaid/CHIP beneficiaries suggesting there have been approximately 34% fewer mental health services when comparing the pandemic months March 2020 – October 2020 to the same months in 2019. Private mental health care claims also decreased from 2019 to 2020. There has been an increase in access to mental health care through telehealth, but there remain technological and privacy barriers to accessing mental health services via telehealth for some children.
All this being said, it is imperative that parents have the toolbox to help their children navigate this changing landscape. There are many resources available to families, but parents may not know where to look. On a recent Learning Reimagined Podcast, a Conversation with Today’s Education Experts, the hosts welcomed a teacher panel. The discussion revolved around the reentry to school and what they were seeing among our youth.
In general, kids are very excited to have a routine, interact with their friends, and feel a sense of normalcy. Of course, there are learning gaps, and not surprisingly, social gaps. Kids have become conditioned to being alone throughout the pandemic, so a classroom full of others may cause some unease. “It is important to keep an eye on your children,” states Principal Joel Peixoto. “If anything raises a red flag, reach out to the classroom teacher.”
The experts agreed that the classroom teacher is your most valuable resource. California educator Lynn Locke explains “Teachers know your student well and see the day-to-day interactions. If any parent has a concern, the classroom teacher should be alerted. He or she can keep an eye on the student and help determine the social well-being of the student.” Teachers are also knowledgeable of the resources available to families and are quick to help.
Embracing change. Being brave.
Most importantly, as we all get back to some semblance of normalcy, it is imperative to stay positive. Ted Lasso says it best. “Most of the time, change is a good thing. Now, I think that’s what it’s all about. Embracing change. Being brave. Doing whatever you have to, so that everyone in your life can move on with theirs.”
Resources for Parents:
The book Conquering Anxiety by Tabitha Chansard, as mentioned in the podcast.