Back to school changes: Do you know what to look for in your child’s mental health?

School Zone

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — With each passing day, we learn more about each districts’ reopening plan, but students still don’t know what their day-to-day life will look like and it can take a mental toll.

Kids feed off adults, incredibly. You know they’re looking to us of what our reactions are, what our emotions are. Sometimes they’re mirroring it, sometimes they’re just responding to it.

Dr. Jen Rapke, Clinical Psychologist at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital

Just as we’re adapting, so are they. Except, as they head back to school, many don’t know what will be the same and what will be completely different.

“Is my friend gonna be in my class? That’s so far from my, you know, thought process right now but that’s the thing they’re most worried about,” said Dr. Jen Rapke, a clinical psychologist at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.

There are a lot of unknown factors that can make kids uneasy. Some may be excited to go back to school but others may be scared.

“We’ve been telling them, stay away from people, be safe, don’t touch anybody, don’t be in a closed room, and now we’re asking them potentially to do that,” said Rapke.

NewsChannel 9’s Nicole Sommavilla asked Dr. Rapke what the social and developmental impacts are for children if they’re not learning in a classroom setting. In an interview, she said:

“I think it’s gonna vary, you know, we always think about kids on a continuum so it’s gonna vary based on their age. Younger kids won’t be quite as impactful, at least right away and they still have a lot of time to develop those things. We’re certainly seeing teenagers come in here talking about how impactful it is right now because it’s such a dramatic change to their social pattern. It has a lot of potential effects, we’re not really sure yet what that’s gonna look like.”

No matter what age your child is, Dr. Rapke says the best thing you can do is talk to them. Figure out what their concerns are and work with them to find solutions while giving them control and choices where you can.

“Being very honest about ‘I don’t know what this means, I don’t know what this is gonna look like but we’re in this together,'” she said.

She also recommends looking for signs of anxiety or depression, which she says will be demonstrated over a course of several days, rather than just one or two.

“They’re sleeping all the time, they’re keeping to themselves more, they’re asking a lot more questions,” said Dr. Rapke. “The biggest thing we usually see changes in that parents notice is often changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping habits, changing in activity level.”

Dr. Rapke also encourages parents to check in with their mental health and ask for help if they need it as they navigate waters they’ve never been swimming in before.

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