Mental Wellness and Our ChildrenMay 3, 2021
According to the OC Healthcare Agency, hospitalization rates due to serious mental illness among children and teens have increased by 87% since 2008. During these turbulent times, the need for mental health resources has been felt even more acutely. Students have faced additional challenges with distance learning, limited social interaction with peers, and in some cases instability in their home life amplified by the current pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, cases of anxiety and depression have risen at alarming rates, while parents and families struggle to help their kids. For many, school is a refuge where they receive supports not found at home. Students’ mental health continues to be a priority of IUSD, and IPSF is committed to raising funds to support school mental health programs.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we sat down with a licensed Family Therapist and IUSD parent, Kathy Colao, to get her insights on how to talk to your child about their mental health and wellness.
Why is it important for parents to take an active role in talking to their child about mental health?
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have been concerned by the rising number of children that I see in my practice suffering from anxiety and depression. Mental wellness is a serious issue, which is why I am so proud to see IPSF investing in mental health resources in our schools. With support from schools, parents, and community, children can learn to respond to stress in healthy ways.
We as parents are the biggest influence in our child’s life. We want to provide the best for our children so they can be successful and independent adults. How do we define success? Do we take into account their personal happiness and their emotional strength, or is it only based on grades and activities? When children are unhappy with their place in the world because of anxiety or depression, it is difficult for them to be successful at school.
What are signs of anxiety or depression that parents should look out for?
Anxiety in children usually shows up as something else such as anger, difficulty sleeping, avoidance, lack of focus, negativity, or even physical symptoms. Depression shows up as irritability and negativity. We need to listen to our children with compassion and empathy by talking/lecturing less and opening our hearts to what they are really saying to us.
Tip for Parents to Start the Conversation:
- Help them identify their emotions beyond angry and happy.
- Use dinnertime to ask open-ended questions of the whole family including parents such as, “What was your rose today, what was your thorn?”
- Have your children see you expressing positive and negative emotions in a calm manner.
- Admit when you have made a mistake and make amends.
- Use empathy, which is expressing back to your children content and feeling about what they are saying. For example, John comes home slams the door and says “he hates school”, our response could be, “Don’t slam the door, why are you being negative about school?” or it can be “Wow, you seem upset about school; how can I help you, tell me what happened.”
- Engage with your child and help them solve their own problems with your assistance. Telling our children what they should be doing all the time does not help them to be independent thinkers and problem solvers.
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional help and support; it may be the answer for your child.
We are so fortunate that IUSD offers many resources for parents and students who are experiencing emotional stress. Each middle school and high school has a Wellness Coordinator on site and each elementary school has an Elementary Resource Counseling Specialist. Visit IUSD.org/wecare to hear their message on mental wellness and to locate resources to help your student. Early intervention is key to help your child be the best they can be mentally, socially, and academically.