This new school year arrives as parents and teachers are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than ever before. There are good reasons for that.
About 300,000 public school educators left their jobs during the first two years of the Covid pandemic. For those that remain, the RAND corporation recently reported that 78% of teachers are experiencing symptoms of stress & depression. Meanwhile, the majority of parents surveyed said their childrens’ education had suffered due to school staffing shortages. Additionally, parents now rank gun violence as a bigger concern than Covid.
While daily life has happily (and slowly) turned back toward the “old” normal, the residual stress is still very real. But you and the kids in your care can get through this. Step one will be to make sure you quickly recognize the signs of mental health struggles—in kids and yourself—and that you know what steps to take. Every kid is different, and no one knows them better than their caregivers. But there are some general patterns and warning signs that everyone should know:
In children up to roughly age 8, watch for:
- Hyperactivity. Don’t worry about typical child excitement. You’re looking for behavior that causes disruptions in social settings.
- Sleep issues, like persistent nightmares or taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
- Excessive fear, worry, or crying—the kind that is difficult to console or that happens more days than not
- Extreme disobedience or aggression (temper tantrums most days of the week)
- Persistent difficulty separating from parents—not just on the first day of school, but into the second week.
In older children and adolescents, key warning signs are:
- Excessive sadness and worry (most days of the week)
- Extreme hyperactivity—again, the kind that makes social situations difficult.
- A decrease in school performance or struggles with concentration.
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy or withdrawal from friends.
- Increased physical tension (frequent stomach aches, headaches, or GI issues)
- Changes in appetite (eating more than average or skipping meals)
- Changes in sleeping patterns. This one can be tough, as older kids tend to sleep a lot anyway. So look for sudden and pronounced changes.
- Persistent Irritability. This can be tough with teens, but if it is beyond the typical eye roll, you may want to look for evidence of other warning signs.
If you are noticing some of these warning signs and they’re persistent, it might be time to seek mental health support. Start with an initial consultation to discuss your concerns and get an expert opinion. It’s better to reach out early than wait too long.
A note on self care
Teaching and parenting are high-stress endeavors. Safeguarding the physical and emotional health of children while also trying to care for yourself can overwhelm anyone.
Remember, just like the airline instructions about securing your own air mask before assisting your children, you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. Studies have reported that children of parents with anxiety are up to 7 times more likely to experience anxiety themselves. Self care isn’t always selfish; oftentimes it is a necessary step toward generosity. Here are three ways to make sure teachers and parents are equipped to offer children a secure foundation.
- Communicate with one another. Parents, take a moment and extend gratitude to your school team for what they are doing. This will actually help you feel less stressed, and your children’s teachers will feel seen. Also, stay in touch regarding your child’s emotional health. You can ask for an update at any time.
- Communicate with your children/students. Teachers, how are you doing with social emotional learning ? It has been well reported that if children feel love and a sense of belonging in the classroom, they will be more likely to succeed. Parents, check in with your kids. Do they feel rested enough? Has their friend group changed over the summer? Try practicing gratitude at dinner, rather than just dwelling on frustrations.
- Establish routines for everyone. Sleep, food, exercise—get consistent (you and the kids).
Remember, if you’re over the age of 18, Meru Health can help you with all of this, in a 12-week, therapist-guided program shown to outperform both traditional talk therapy and antidepressants. It’s tough to help children feel better when you don’t feel at your best. Meru Health can help you.
Join Meru Health program today! Simply download Meru Health app to get started.