By Vanessa Simpson, LCSW, Children’s Health | Contributor
While back-to-school season is normally a time for excitement, it is typical for students to feel some degree of stress or worry in the first few days or weeks. During this school season, COVID-19 has made the overall back-to-school experience more stressful for students, parents, and teachers, making the conversation about managing stress and emotions more critical than ever before.
The 2020 school year has been challenging for students to navigate so far with all the changes required to keep them and others safe. While these changes are necessary, they can bring on heightened levels of stress and anxiety for students as they go back to school, both in-person and virtually.
Children may show their stress or worry in different ways. Parents and caregivers know their child(ren) best, so be on the lookout for changes in your child’s behavior and mood, such as:
- Increased defiance or irritability
- Disturbances in sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of concentration
- Less energy
- Physical symptoms like nausea, muscle tension or dizziness
- Refusal to go to school
- Sadness or crying
If your child is showing any of these signs, they may have heightened anxiety about returning to school, or COVID-19 in general.
It is important to keep the doors for conversation open with children.
If parents notice these signs in their own children, it is important to point out what they have noticed in a non-judgmental way. During that conversation, parents have the opportunity to normalize and validate any feelings or emotions that their child may be experiencing. Parents can also use this conversation to model healthy coping skills that they use when they experience stress and worry as well.
While some stress and worry is typical during the back-to-school season, if parents notice that their child is experiencing multiple or excessive signs and symptoms, and those symptoms are impacting their child’s ability to do well at school or engage with the rest of the family at home, it may be time to seek out help from a therapist who can provide additional support. In 2017, Children’s Health expanded its telehealth initiatives with a school-based tele-behavioral health program. Since then, the program has been implemented in more than 170 schools in seven districts across the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. With parents’ permission, children can engage in virtual therapy with a licensed behavioral health provider – right from school, right from a tablet – to address common behavioral health issues in student populations such as depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and lack of coping skills. This program is a convenient option for students to have access to expert behavioral health care. This innovative use of technology has made health care available to more children and families than ever before.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vanessa Simpson, LCSW is the Behavioral Health Care Manager at Children’s Health. Vanessa earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Baylor University. She has worked for Children’s Health for over 5 years in both the Social Work department and Behavioral Health department. In her current role, she provides tele-behavioral health services to students in multiple school districts across North Texas. Vanessa values community outreach, mental health, and wellness. She has been specifically trained in Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Trauma-Informed Care. Vanessa believes in promoting an environment of compassion and hope to help children, teens, and families overcome their struggles and mental health challenges.