Being Sensitive to Children’s Mental Health As They Return to School

As the summer days dwindle down, parents and children are beginning to prepare for the back-to-school season. The feelings around returning to school this year, however, are likely a bit more complicated than in years past. With COVID-19 cases on the rise yet again, there is a lot of uncertainty about in-person learning and the potential for disruptions to protect the health and safety of students.

Over the course of the pandemic there was an increase in anxiety and depression among youth. With the return to school upon us, it is vital that parents pay attention to how their children are feeling and acting. Major signs that your child is struggling could include: 

  • Negative emotions: Whether you have a young child or a teenager, negative changes in mood such as being irritable, sad, and/or angry can be a telltale sign your child is struggling with their mental health.
  • Difficulty sleeping: When kids have trouble falling or staying asleep it can be a sign of depression or an anxiety disorder.
  • Falling behind in school: A lack of interest in school work or a sudden decline in academic performance could be a sign that something else is upsetting your kid.    
The transition back to a classroom setting could be a difficult readjustment for many kids, and some might even feel overwhelmed back in a group setting with a rigid schedule. This level of stress and anxiety can manifest in different ways in different children, so parents and teachers should be prepared to handle a variety of reactions ranging from temper tantrums to noticeable social withdrawal.

As a majority of school districts are planning a return to in-person learning, it is important that parents and teachers are understanding as children readjust to the classroom setting. Families that see their child struggling to adjust should sit down and have an open conversation with their student about what is causing them to be stressed out or sad.

While some families may not have a choice in returning to virtual learning or going back to the classroom, they can help their kids to readjust. Parents should be mindful of the transition, and provide their children with a safe space to communicate their feelings, whatever those feelings may be.

It is also important for parents to demonstrate healthy emotions to their children. It is okay for parents to be anxious or sad about their student returning to school – or any other pressing challenges. By demonstrating appropriate emotional regulation, parents can create an environment where their child feels comfortable opening up about their own feelings.

Mental health advocacy tools and resources

While adults should be aware of their own mental health as well as their children’s, younger generations can also take an active role in advocating for themselves and their peers in the mental health sector.

Between 2016 to 2020 alone there was a nearly 30% increase in diagnoses of anxiety and depression among children aged 3-17. Not only were more people diagnosed with mental health disorders, but in 2020 we lost 45,979 Americans due to suicide, according to the Pain in the Nation report.

One way youth can lead the charge in improving mental health across America is through Evokate. This educational app and online tool provides young adults with the resources they need to succeed in enacting positive mental health policy changes in their communities. The app was created by the National Mental Health Advisory Board, a collective group of teens and young adults between the ages of 18-25. These young people are passionate about comprehensive mental health policy reform and want to make a difference in this country.

Additional Resources
  • Youthline – Learn more about this teen-to-teen youth crisis and support service.
  • The Trevor Project – Learn more about LGBTQ youth suicide prevention & crisis intervention.
  • Work2BeWell – View free resources for parents, teens, and educators, clinically vetted curriculum, and learn more about a movement to reduce stigma and amplify teen voices within mental health.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988, new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Learn more about 988.

The information on this website is not intended to be medical advice. Medical advice can only be provided by your personal health care provider.