It's time for a mental health check-in with your kids
This generation of children has been exposed to unprecedented times and have likely experienced a similar level of stress and fear as you experienced as a result of the COVID pandemic. And it has disrupted their lives in ways that the adults around them cannot understand. Most kids had to adapt to distanced learning, with very little warning, and though classes online helped academically, they missed out on the social interaction and growth of being in school with other kids.
In June of 2020, the CDC reported the prevalence of adults experiencing anxiety disorder was three times greater and those experiencing depression was four times greater than in the second quarter of 2019. Mental health for kids was not evaluated in the study, but we know that kids can suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression, and their numbers likely have increased as well.
We can help our children by communicating regularly to get a read on how they are feeling about everything they have been through and continue to undergo. To get you started, we have put together a list of mental health check-in questions.
What you should ask first
Is there anything that you feel worried about? A very common symptom of generalized anxiety is simply worrying a lot. Sometimes it takes asking the question to get your child to recognize that they may feel a certain way all the time, even when nothing concerning is happening.
Have you been feeling sad or angry? Depression can present as feelings of sadness, but it can also come out as anger or irritation.
How is your body feeling? Do you feel achy or have you been getting tummy aches? The mind/body connection is very strong. It's not uncommon for the body to respond in kind to negative thought processes.
Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? When your child is alone in a quiet room with no distractions, they can no longer block out sad or anxious thoughts, which can cause insomnia.
Is it hard for you to pay attention in class? Depression and anxiety can both interfere with your child's ability to concentrate on the task at hand. That will be most obvious at school or when they're doing homework.
Don't worry about getting the question right. Simply talking about emotions, and acknowledging their feelings is a giant step toward opening up the lines of communication. Children don't want to upset or worry their parents, which often leads them to keep bad things hidden. Let them know you are happy to listen any time they want to talk, and that you will not be angry or disappointed by anything they choose to tell you.
Follow up questions
This year is going to be a tough one for kids that are returning to school after such a long time. Set up a night once a month, or more often if you think it's warranted, clear your schedule and go over some of the mental health check-in questions for kids that you feel are most useful. Make it part of the normal routine and your kids may begin to feel more comfortable talking about their feelings without even being asked.
Of course, if you suspect anything serious or see evidence of self-harm, contact a mental health professional right away. Not sure how to find one, your child's doctor or the school counselor can help refer you to the right place.
Check out these post-pandemic back to school tips for additional ways to help make this year easier on your kids.