Covid-19 Has Not Only Led To Academic Issues In Children, But Mental Health Issues Too

The pandemic forced many schools to close down in 2020, meaning many children spent the rest of the 2019-2020 school year and most, if not all, of the 2020-2021 school year learning online. It was not an easy transition for many children or for their parents, with reports from KFF Vaccine Monitor reporting that around four in ten parents of school-aged children ages 5-17 say at least one of their children fell behind academically. And academic issues have not been the only side effects of online schooling: mental health issues have also become much more common among children in the last year. 

As this school year begins, though, most schools are transitioning back to in-person learning, which could end up being a mixed bag. Being physically at school can help with children’s development, but many will also experience some anxiety and panic as they return, so it is important to know how to help get your child back into the swing of things.

illustration of a girl sitting at a desk with her hands over her face
One of the symptoms of mental health issues within children is difficulty concentrating or frequent headaches.

Studies Show…

The Kaiser Family Foundation researchers recently asked more than 1,200 parents of children younger than age 18 about their children’s’ mental health; more than a third said their child had fallen behind in their social and behavioral development during the pandemic. Children whose school was at least partially online last year were more likely to have had their well being negatively impacted; not only that, but around 42% of the parents surveyed said their children showed at least one new mental health symptom during the pandemic. 

Some of the symptoms included:

  • Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork (27%)
  • Problems with nervousness, or being easily scared or worried (19%)
  • Trouble sleeping (18%)
  • Poor appetite or overeating (15%)
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches (11%)

Recognizing Signs of Stress & Other Mental Health Issues

Your child might not know how to express how they are feeling, so it is important to be able to recognize any signs of mental distress in your child. Each child or teen will exhibit different signs, but there are some common symptoms and changes in their behavior or development to look out for, including:

  • Irritability
  • Waking up more during the night
  • Separation anxiety
  • Bedwetting
  • Stepping back from personal relationships
  • Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Change in appetite
  • Memory problems
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

What You Can Do To Help Prepare Your Child

While the transition back to in-person learning is undoubtedly good for children and their development, it might also be challenging for some, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. “Keep checking in with your kids,” Dr. Kyle Monk, a pediatrician at Cedars-Sinai, says. “Ask them how they’re doing and let them know how you’re feeling as well.”

If your child is anxious or scared about returning to school, have an open conversation with them, and take the time to listen to and validate their feelings. Here’s how you can help get them back into the swing of things:

  • Have an open conversation about the new year and what they can expect as they return to school.young caucasian boy sleeping while holding a stuffed monkey
  • Ween them off of their summer schedule by starting an earlier, consistent bedtime, and prepare them for getting up early. You might want to get them an alarm clock so they know exactly when they need to get up.
  • Make sure your child has a daily, predictable routine, with regular times for healthy meals, naps, and night sleep at home. Having a rested body and knowing what to expect at home helps children cope.
  • Sit down with your kids and have them put forward a couple of academic goals for the semester.
  • Establish a quiet zone or zones at home where kids can do homework, without the distractions of TV, videos, music, etc.
  • Reassure children about safety measures in place to help keep them safe and healthy, and prepare them to stay safe by talking about socially distancing, washing their hands, and  wearing a mask all day.
  • Be on the lookout for any emotional or physical changes after the start of the school year, so you can help them cope, or get professional help if needed.

All ACA-approved health insurance plans cover mental health needs, including therapy, inpatient services, and any medications needed. Get free quotes on plans with great coverage and affordable prices by entering your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a local licensed agent, call 888-350-1890.

Help Your Kids Manage Stress In School

Stress has no age limit, including for children. Kids get stressed out while growing up, especially throughout the school year. You can learn to spot the signs of stress, and help your kids cope with the stress in a positive manner. If not, kids will begin to slack in school, their behavior may get worse, they can become introverted, moody, and may even seek negative influences as coping mechanisms. Noticing these signs is the first step to tackling the issue, followed by some tips to problem solve and manage it.

Unusual behavior in a kid is a sign of stress.
If your kid is irrationally frustrated or acting out, this may be a sign of stress.

Spot the Signs of Stress

There are a lot of different signs of stress in kids. Irregular behavior from your kids is the main sign that something is wrong. Signs to look for:

  • No eye contact
  • Uncooperative
  • More meltdowns than normal
  • Clingy towards you or towards a comfort item such as a teddy bear or blanket
  • Lethargic
  • Aggressive
  • Can not focus on tasks
  • Introverted or does not want to play with others
  • Resisting to go to school

You know your own kid better than anyone, so if they start to act unlike themselves, that should be a sure sign that there is something wrong, or they are dealing with stress.

Make Sure They Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is extremely important for growing kids, especially when they are in school learning. If you do not get enough sleep, your brain cannot grasp the information you learn the next day as well as it would when rested. Lack of sleep will also alter a kids mood, becoming more irritable and uncooperative.

Make Time To Play

All work and no play, makes a dull and sad kid. Riding bikes, throwing a ball around, and just being a kid is important. This helps to have some fun without the added stress of winning a sport, or doing it right.

To help relieve stress, allow time for your kids to play.
It is important to make some time for kids to be kids and play. It helps relieve stress.

Teach Coping Mechanisms

Kids will often mimic how their parents deal with stress. At times we are guilty of coming home and lashing out or taking out our stress from work on our kids. It is important to take a step back and talk with your children about why you are upset, but put a positive spin on it and teach them to look at things in a different perspective. Teach your kids different ways to relax. Deep breathing exercises can help, or my favorite- write a daily affirmation, because when you think positive, you remain positive.

Limit Technology

As much as kids love to watch TV or be on their tablets, these activities can just increase stress. Try to do more activities as a family or with friends. Something as simple as having a meal together where you can talk and listen is important. Talking about what’s going on can relieve a great amount of stress on it’s own.

Do Not Overschedule

One of the biggest things to stress a kid out is overscheduling and spreading them thin. Kids not only have to pay attention for 7 hours throughout the day in school, but then they have to go to extracurricular activities, then come home to do homework, and then go to bed. It can become too much for a kid. It can become extra hectic when you have multiple kids and are constantly running around. Take the time to allow them to rest at times, and that there is some downtime in their schedule.

Positive coping strategies will help your kids become confident and accomplish anything.
Teaching your kid to cope with stress in a positive manner, will build confidence to accomplish anything.

Set Achievable Goals

I myself am guilty of this. I set these high expectations for my kids, which in turn puts a lot of pressure on them. The pressure to achieve these unattainable goals will just cause stress and depression when they do not reach it. Learn to set small realistic goals for your kid, and when they achieve it, praise them, and they will gain more confidence and excel academically.

If you do not teach your kids how to deal with stress, they will begin to self-medicate in an unhealthy manner with food, drugs, and alcohol.  Life can get hectic with work, school, and after school activities, so at times we can miss the signs. Take some time everyday to talk with your kids, learn what’s going on and build a strong relationship. That way, you can see patterns of stress, reach out, and help destress them.