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Parent’s Playbook: Minding your mental health as schools open

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 6:25 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) -

For this edition of Parent’s Playbook, we’re talking mental health and ways to stay balanced during a chaotic time in our nation’s history.

The pandemic could cause stress in students, so how can parents and their kids keep their mental health in check? 16 News Now spoke with a therapist on Friday to learn more. A good and healthy avenue of communication is key for working through stress, and with a strange start to the school year parents and students need to stay mentally well.

“Its not what happens to our children, its how we help them deal with it,” Dr. Erin Leonard says. She is a psychotherapist, author, and blogger at Psychology Today.

Students looking to be back with friends, but now in the new normal, dealing with time away from friends, social distancing, and masking up at school.

“The older kids, a lot of them are probably are probably really looking forward to getting back to school, to having more time with their friends because developmentally those peer relationships are essential,” Dr. Leonard says.

Essential for younger students as well, but grade-school kids could be more self-conscious about all the new rules in school.

“They might have greater concerns about doing something wrong like, ‘what if I forget to put on my mask or what if I forget my mask at home, or what if the teacher gets mad at me because I don’t have my mask on correctly?‘” Dr. Leonard adds.

Different worries in a different time for opening up schools. So how can parents keep on top of their student’s mental health? Dr. Leonard says look for these signs:

Loss of appetite and changes in eating.

Issues falling asleep or staying asleep.

Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

And look out for increased irritability.

“A lot of parents think, ‘oh my number one job is to make sure they’re safe and that their biological needs are met’,” Dr. Leonard says. “One really important parental responsibility is making sure the child is emotionally feeling secure.”

So how can parents help?

“The best way they can cope with it is by talking about it, and expressing how they feel,” Dr. Leonard says. Parents and students can also use these coping skills:

Get outside more to relax, enjoy the outdoors.

Have fun with your family and remember to laugh.

Getting a new pet or spending time with the one you have.

Mindfulness techniques like breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation.

“Things are going to happen, life is going to happen. We’re not able to protect them from everything, but the one thing a parent can do is to help them through a difficult time,” Dr. Leonard says. “And the best way to do that is by allowing that child to express how they feel, honoring and reflecting that feeling.”

Of course, if you or anyone in your family developments mental issues that can’t be alleviated through coping skills, reach out to a mental health professional. If you are feeling suicidal and need support reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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