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Back to school and mental health

Helping students' mental health as they return to school amid COVID-19
Posted at 10:59 AM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 11:59:44-04

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN (NBC26) -- Many districts and families are now just a few days away from the start of an unprecedented school year.

There are protocols in place to help keep kids physically safe, but a local psychologist we talked with said it will be important to also monitor the mental health of students.

“None of the back to school ritual has been what it typically is," Sherman Counseling Clinical Director Casey Hanson said. “The energy just feels a little bit different from what I’m hearing from kids in my office."

Hanson said the typical excitement for the start of the school year could now come with, or be replaced by, feelings of anxiousness or worry. She said it's an important thing for families to talk about.

“If we pretend like the pandemic is nothing and the changes are going to be nothing, that’s not going to be helpful," Hanson said. "Kids are going to be going into a classroom setting that does not look like what they’re used to.”

Hanson said those different feelings should be expected.

“I think there’s a lot parents can to do talk about what is within a child’s control," she said. "If you are feeling anxious, you can go to school and you can take your little sanitizer on your desk. We’re going to sit at home here and practice mask wearing so you can get used to it."

There's also a chance that after spending so much time at home, both students and parents will have some type of separation anxiety as the year begins.

“Recognizing as well that just because kids have had so much time at home and with their families, that particularly younger kids, there is a strong potential that we’re going to see a separation anxiety," Hanson said. "So talking about those things that tie us, even if you’re at school and mommy is at home I’ll still be here and available, and you’re safe.”

If parents are nervous, Hanson recommends calling the district and learning as much as possible about what learning will look like and what safety protocols are in place. Finally, she recommends families monitor mental health as the first few days and weeks of school progress.

“Making sure that they’re eating well, that sleep schedule stays in tact, and just that communication, validating feelings when they’re brought up, those are all great things parents can do to navigate the transition," she said.