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School has been back in session for a couple of months now. Your child is most likely getting familiar with their new environment and routine, making new friends, navigating social situations, and adjusting to their new responsibilities. Although this can be a busy time of the year for many families, it’s important to s l o w d o w n, p.a.u.s.e., and check in with your child about their mental health.

Mental health struggles can take a toll on anyone, even young children. And it’s important to remember that as a nation, we have ALL experienced a very stressful few years through the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time in over two years that things have returned to “normal” in the classroom. However, it isn’t fair to expect that a child plucked from kindergarten who then learned virtually for two years can return to second grade with the social, behavioral, and academic skills of a second grader who didn’t experience such a BIG interruption.

During a panel discussion hosted by San Antonio’s Clarity Child Guidance Center, local experts weighed in on the mental health challenges they have seen children struggle with since returning to the classroom.

  • Social anxiety, child does not want to stay on campus
  • Suicidal thoughts, depression and hopelessness
  • Trouble managing big feelings (ages 4-6)
  • Inability to work through negative interactions with classmates, lack of resilience and internal sturdiness
  • Struggling with cyber/digital social interactions (i.e., gaming, social media, text messaging)

If you’ve noticed any of these signs in your child, the most important thing you can do is lead with love. Children need to be loved through any and all struggles. Discuss the changes you notice with your child’s pediatrician or doctor so they can be properly screened.

Here are also some important steps you can take at home:

  • Listen and address their concerns, worries, or fears. Make sure they know they can openly talk to you about issues they may be having. Share your own experiences and feelings. You can make your child feel seen and validated by talking with them about times you were struggling.
  • Manage your own expectations as a parent. If your child is struggling, there most likely is more than one reason why and it’s okay to seek help.
  • If your child is behind academically, come up with a routine or schedule to help them stay on track. Instead of just telling them to go do their homework, sit down and go through their assignments with them. Talk with your child’s teachers, find out what skills they need to work on, and seek out tutoring services and extra resources, if needed.
    •  Extra Help: Be a Learning Hero has easy-to-use resources to help parents team up with their child’s teacher and start the year strong.
  • Educate yourself about how children are communicating through text messaging, social media and gaming. Talk with your child about what they’re experiencing. Here’s a scenario. Someone left your child’s text “on read.” This made them feel anxious and upset. Why? Educate yourself about “cyberparenting” in this new, digital world.
    • Extra HelpnextTalk offers tips to keep kids safe online. Rules and restrictions are important, but it’s really about your relationship with your child. Learn how to have real conversations about real issues kids are struggling with.
  • If you suspect your child is being bullied, they need to know they are being heard and that their feelings matter. Depending upon what’s happened, you can decide on next steps, including reaching out to your child’s teacher.
    • Extra Help: If you’re not sure if you’re child is being bullied, review this Bullying Checklist (English | Spanish) and visit David’s Legacy Foundation a local organization providng information about bullying and your child’s rights.

Pandemic era reports recently led the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association to issue a joint declaration of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Findings indicate high rates of mental health disorders among US children and youth, including evidence that even very young children experience mental health conditions. Twenty percent of all children have an identified mental health condition annually while 40% of all children will meet criteria by age 18. 

Shim, Ruth, et al. “Epidemic Rates of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Disorders Require an Urgent Response.” AAP Publications, American Academy of Pediatrics, 26 Apr. 2022.

Remember, just as we wouldn’t expect a child with diabetes to manage their illness on their own, we can’t expect children to manage their mental health symptoms on their own. They need help, support, and guidance from their parents, caregivers, medical professionals, and educators to be most resilient in the face of mental health challenges.

Additional Information and Support:

  • Behavioral health screenings and counseling: In-network mental health services are covered for Community First Members.
  • Healthy Mind: Behavioral Health Program: A health and wellness program developed by Community First, offering resources and support to Members. It costs nothing to join.
  • Care Management: Services from a Registered Nurse for Community First Members and their caregivers who need help understanding a diagnosis, scheduling doctors’ appointments, managing medications, and more.
  • Clarity Child Guidance Center: The only nonprofit mental health treatment center for kids ages 3 to 17 in South Texas. When a child is in crisis, Clarity works with families to get much-needed treatment regardless of their ability to pay.
  • Project YES (Youth Empowerment and Support): An online program founded to help local teens who are struggling with their mental health. Project YES has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, decrease hopelessness, and boost a sense of control in adolescents ages 11 through 17 by more than 50%. The program is free, available online, and participation is anonymous.
  •  988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 24/7, confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress.

Beginning September 1, 2024 Community First Health Plans, Inc. will be adding STAR+PLUS to its line of health care products.

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