The past 16 months have been difficult for everyone, but particularly for youth. Classrooms shuttered and at-home learning became the new normal, graduations and proms were cancelled or modified, and seeing friends was a thing of the past — all while fears of COVID-19 loomed. Several studies have shown that these factors have taken a toll on young people’s mental health, and the long-term effects are still unknown.
As a new school year nears and in-person gatherings are returning, Ana Boydstun, LMFT, behavioral health manager of Child Psychiatry at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center, advises on how to make this transition period as seamless as possible for the entire family.
“It’s a great time to gather as much information as you can to prepare your children for what they can expect when going back to school,” said Boydstun.
Make sure you are up to date with their school’s COVID-19 safety protocols, connect with their teachers to discuss their needs, and ensure your kids are current with physical health, including immunizations and well-child checks.
Communicate with your kids
Reintegrating into the community is exciting for some kids and teens, but it can be anxiety provoking for others, said Boydstun. It’s vital to talk to your children about how they are feeling, their concerns, and their grievances of the past year.
“Young people desire their parents’ guidance and support when faced with new challenges, even if it doesn’t seem like it,” she said. “Let them know you are open to hearing their struggles, and questions, and reassure them.”
Youth ages 12-18 are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination. But if they are not yet vaccinated, impress upon them the importance of following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking and other guidelines, especially as COVID-19 infections are on the rise due to the new Delta variant.
“Empower your children to take the necessary measures to stay safe in any situation,” Boydstun said. “That includes washing hands, social distancing, and opting out of large gatherings if they don’t feel comfortable.”
“Young people desire their parents’ guidance and support when faced with new challenges, even if at times it doesn’t seem like it. Let them know you are open to hearing their struggles and questions, and reassure them.” – Ana Boydstun
Remember your resources
There are many digital resources available for mental health management, including Kaiser Permanente’s FindYourWords, the meditation digital tool Calm, which is free to all members, and MyStrength. Other parents and online forums are also great places to find support and information.
Look for signs of mental health challenges
How do you know when it’s more than a transition phase or a few bad days?
Look for significant changes in your child’s emotional or behavioral functions, Boydstun said. For instance, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, an inability to focus long-term in school, or less energy and pleasure from activities they used to enjoy.
If depression or anxiety is disrupting their ability to cope with everyday life, it’s time to get help from a doctor or mental health professional.
Give back to yourself
The less stressed you are, the better parent you will be, said Boydstun. It’s important to prioritize activities that fulfill your wellbeing, whether it’s self-care, exercise, or simply some time away.
“It’s important to remind yourself of the ways you are effective as a parent,” she said. “Acknowledge that there is still a lot out of our control and just showing love and support to your children goes a long way.”
Although the past year plus has been rough, difficult times can build resiliency in young people, enabling them to better handle stress and rebound stronger from a setback, according to Boydstun. Being prepared for this next chapter is the best way to make this transition period as smooth as possible.
Learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s mental health care at kp.org/mentalhealth.