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SEATTLE - As school gets back in session, learning, of course, looks very different for most kids across the state and the country. With a lot of uncertainty still lingering, experts are anticipating a spike in anxiety and depression in school-aged kids. So, we talked to a psychiatrist about how to tell if your kid is suffering from more than just the back-to-school jitters.
Dr. Larry Mitnaul says there are some things to look out for, “If you see your child kind of acting unusual every time that you are getting ready for school or having school-like conversations, they suddenly become quiet, or they certainly start expressing that you know they are having these recurrent headaches or they’re tummy troubles all of the time ... I mean these might be early kind of detective signs that ‘ok my child is really having a tough time with this and maybe we need to either delve a little bit deeper and try to talk about it.'”
Dr. Mintaul is also a volunteer medical expert for the American Heart Association and he is offering some tips on what parents can do to help in this unprecedented time.
First, he says get back into a routine.
“It is one of those foundational pillars that help kids to expect what’s happening next in their day and in a land and in a time when everything is gonna be, you know, changing and switching up with probably some irregularity.”
Here are the routines Dr. Mitnaul says we should focus on. Get back into the routine of good nutrition, it is easy to get off track during the summer months with a more relaxed schedule.
Next, if you aren’t already, start getting the kids back into a routine of being physically active. Go on walks around the neighborhood if you don't have a backyard or space to play. Dr. Mitnaul says to try to make a game out of it so the kids are more inclined to participate.
Finally, try to get into the routine of decluttering tech and screen time.
Dr. Mitnaul says while it may be tough with remote-learning, these things can help kids get back into building these habits when the year is underway.
Another thing he says we need to focus on is patience and a little grace, “Preparing our kids too to give each other a little bit of grace in this transition and for us as parents too to give each other and the school administrators and our local and state officials you know the benefit of the doubt that they are trying as best as they can even when there are some very real frustrations.”
Dr. Mitnaul says using something familiar to them can help adjust the way they feel about a situation. For example, kids read a lot of adventure books or watch movies like Frozen and they can be heard singing into the unknown … but is it the unknown that has many kids freaking out over right now.
“Now is a really great time to one, revisit some of those stories, and then maybe frame for our kids, or talk about it in that lens. You know, ok there are a lot of things that we are not gonna know, you know or be able to expect. So what do we do when the unexpected happens? You know how do we calm our bodies and brains when we are not sure what to do or are feeling overwhelmed.”
Dr. Mitnaul says talking to your children on a different level might help strike up the conversation as it can be tough for many kids and teens to express their emotions during this difficult time, “Maybe even talking about not to the depth or a level that you would with your partner or spouse, you know, ‘there are some things about this that dad’s a little bit nervous about…’ you know. Sometimes our kids look at us like 'you get nervous?' or 'you know or things worry you a little bit? ‘yes. and here is what i do you know when i feel that worry.’”
So for the parents feeling like their kid is already having a rough time or maybe you are having a hard time coping, Dr. Mitnaul says now is a good time to connect with someone you trust, like a pediatritian, family doctor or even lean on your community members, “Maybe that next step is just reassurance that you’re not going crazy and that you’re doing ok.”
Click here if you would like more tips from Dr. Mitnaul.
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