An NPR article published last month opened with these sobering words: “A coalition of the nation’s leading experts in pediatric health has issued an urgent warning declaring the mental health crisis among children so dire that it has become a national emergency.”
The article tied the crisis to the pandemic as well as to issues surrounding racial inequality, citing increased risks for teenage girls and children of color.
During the pandemic, children of color have lost primary caregivers at significantly higher rates than white children, with Native American children having the highest rates of loss.
Twenty-four hours earlier, a New York Times parenting column by Jessica Grose explored the changes teachers and parents have reported with the return to in-person school. From increased separation anxiety in young children to a lack of engagement in formerly motivated teens, there are concerning differences teachers and parents are noticing.
Have you experienced this with your children? Is your teen daughter more anxious? Is it more challenging getting out the door or dropping off your preschooler? Is your formerly studious son now unmotivated, disengaged or discouraged? If so, what are effective options to turn things around? Here are a few:
Put your well-being first. Stress can be contagious in a family and so can a sense of calm. If you approach things from a place of composure, you will be able to tap into your creativity and experience greater resilience. Get outdoors, do something physical daily, meditate, talk to a trusted friend or therapist, breathe. Take care of all aspects of yourself — emotional, physical, spiritual and mental.
Be open to talking with a lot of listening. Talking with your family about what you each are experiencing is unifying and comforting. Focus on listening over fixing. Ask your adolescent and teen how they would like things to be — about their grades, friendships, feelings or whatever comes up — and how they imagine they can get there, including what they need. Let your younger children know that they are safe.
Validate your child’s feelings. Find a place of understanding. If your teen is failing in subjects in which they previously excelled, ask them how they feel. Let them know that you totally see how they would feel the way that they do. Inquire how they would like it to be different and what they need to get there.
Guide your child to honor their own well-being. With your child, go on a discovery of what nourishes their sense of balance, calm and health. Include them in your self-care practices. Notice with them how you each feel before and after walking, being with animals, meditating, talking about feelings or breathing practices. Noticing the impact of a self-care practice serves as an anchor in developing it as a habit.
Find assistance. Make your child’s teacher a partner with school challenges and make them aware of any issues happening at home that might influence your child’s learning at school. Find a therapist, coach or counselor for additional information, guidance and support.
Remind yourself and your family that you are all in this together. We are all in this together.
The good news is many teachers who reported challenges with a return to school also noted a significant increase in empathy. Allow empathy and compassion to lead.