Intermountain Healthcare

Help kids transition back to school by focusing on these 5 simple areas

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(GTU) – With the school year underway across the state, it can be a stressful time filled with uncertainty and anxiety for parents and students as COVID cases rise. More than ever, there is a need to focus on people’s mental well-being.  

Mental health concerns in Utah have been high during the COVID pandemic over the past 17 months. Stressors have included concerns about the surge of COVID cases in Utah, social distancing, economic concerns, extreme weather, concerns about masking and return to school for children, just to name a few examples.  

Annie Deming, PhD, a licensed psychologist and clinical manager for Intermountain Healthcare’s Primary Children’s Center for Counseling, offers the following tips for parents and kids in dealing with stress and anxiety of the uncertainty surrounding this year’s school year focusing on five key areas:

  1. Anticipate and Prepare for Uncertainty
  2. Actively Listen and Help Your Children Find Solutions
  3. Be Resilient
  4. Recognize Progress and Success
  5. Be a Role Model for Managing Anxiety at Home

1. Understand These are Uncertain Times

Everyone needs to get to a point where they’re able to be flexible. Understand that there will be changes to routines, said Dr. Deming. 

Don’t be stressed too much when they do. The added stress can leave the whole family in turmoil. Especially if parents can model for their children how to approach change with curiosity and a positive, hard-working attitude, that will be very beneficial for the kids.

Annie Deming, PhD, Psychologist and Clinical Manager, Intermountain Healthcare

2. Actively Listen and Help Your Children Find Solutions

Although responding well and adapting to stress is important, it is also important for parents to listen and validate concerns when their child is struggling. Instead of only saying that they need to adapt, first let them know that it makes sense to feel stressed, what they are experiencing is hard and difficult. Only after that validation should parents turn to coping skills or a focus on dealing with stress.

Once you have actively listened and had a full understanding of the problem, you are in a better position to help your children navigate it. If they are feeling a lack of social connection, reach out to other parents and arrange times to hang out.

If they are struggling at school, empower them to talk to their teachers. If you don’t have a solution or if a solution doesn’t work, that’s okay! The best thing parents can do is spend time with their kids and listen more than speak. Sometimes that is all they need!

3. Be Resilient

The good side is that through the strife of the past year, we have also been given the opportunity to practice and develop our resilience.  Some people think of resilience as a trait one is born with (hardiness) or an outcome (presence of post-traumatic stress or growth). 

Resilience is neither lucky nor passive and can be strengthened with practice. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity.

When we get far enough past adversity to look back with perspective, we can consider its effects on our lives and identities, reflect on the skills we developed, the actions we took, the lessons we learned, and the reasons we kept going.

Annie Deming, PhD, Psychologist and Clinical Manager, Intermountain Healthcare

4. Recognize Progress and Success

Celebrate successes together. Recognize when something that was previously difficult becomes easier. Realize past situations when you or your child have adapted well to a sudden or unexpected change, and then remind your child that they can do hard things. Explain that life doesn’t always go in the ways we expect, but we can still have gratitude for what we do have and can lean on our friends and family when needed.

5. Be a Role Model for Managing Anxiety at Home / Be an Advocate

If plans are not working, then parents should be empowered to reach out to schools and engage in constructive conversations, Dr. Deming advises.

These conversations should not be complaints, but a discussion about finding a commonplace to help the student and family, she said. We need to recognize that all of us are working for the same goal of educating and raising children. Once we align around that goal and can communicate our concerns respectfully, more effective conversations occur.

Annie Deming, PhD, Psychologist and Clinical Manager, Intermountain Healthcare

Finding Help

Finding support for behavioral and mental health needs can be challenging. Different insurance plans have different providers. The needs individuals have can vary and finding a mental health clinician and programs with availability is also often challenging. These are just some of the issues that Utahns have had to work through to seek help for their mental health.  

In order to better support the growing mental health needs in the community, Intermountain Healthcare has launched the free Intermountain Behavioral Health Navigation Hotline (833-442-2211)

Anyone can call for free to speak to a caregiver and talk through their concerns and problems. The situations can be range from daily stress to critical situations. This service is staffed by trained behavioral health caregivers. The caregiver on the phone will listen and ask questions to assist in struggles or receiving that people need help for.  

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