Parents should hone in on school-aged children’s emotional needs

Central Illinois Newsday

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Many districts across Central Illinois are continuing with remote virtual learning for the start of the fall semester. Most kids haven’t stepped foot in a school since March. So has the summer slide changed to the COVID-19 collapse?

OSF Healthcare’s child psychiatrist Dr. Kyle Boerke, Psy. D. said in his clinical practice, he’s “hearing a lot of anxiety a lot of depression surrounding going into the schools. Part of it certainly has to do with exposure to COVID-19, the other part has to do with children thrive on expectations and routines and consistency…and the uncertainty around this school year and the lack of consistent expectations is causing anxiety of a lot of our kiddos.”

Boerke said If you are a young adult feeling depressed about social isolation, you need to seek help. He said if you are the parent of a young person at home, you need to recognize what your child is experiencing and get the guidance they need.

“Just open up the topic of conversation and just be present,” said Boerke. “Let them know that you are available for that. I had a kid the other day…they were so excited leading up to the school year to see their friends again to be able to play with them and hug them… just to get into the school and realize that that expectation that they had isn’t realistic. They’re not going to be able to interact in the same way and it is causing problems for some of our kids.”

  • Physical: Look for changes in sleep, appetite, energy and motivation. Is the person maintaining good hygiene, or have they lost focus?
  • Emotional: Watch for excessive worry, sadness, dissatisfaction with life, irritability and agitation.
  • Cognitive: Is the person focusing on negatives, jumping to conclusions, personalizing things (“this is my fault”), or having trouble with memory, confusion and concentration?

When you see these signs, seek help.

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

Common depression signs and symptoms include:

Emotional changes

Be alert for emotional changes, such as:

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

Behavioral changes

Watch for changes in behavior, such as:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
  • Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt

Contact your primary care provider. OSF HealthCare also offers OSF SilverCloud, a secure and anonymous digital behavioral health option offering supportive content for a range of issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress.

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