Battling blues

Dr Carolyn Yaffe from Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic tells us how to spot the signs of anxiety in children returning to school

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By Mitchelle D'Souza

Published: Thu 19 Aug 2021, 4:22 PM

Many children experience anxiety upon returning to school following the summer break, which is perfectly normal and understandable. Dr Carolyn Yaffe from the Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic offers advice to parents on how to identify anxiety in their children and assist them in overcoming any worries they may have about returning to school following the summer break.

How to recognise anxiety

Anxiety disorders are characterised by a wide range of symptoms according to Dr Yaffe. Children who suffer from an anxiety disorder have excessive and persistent worry and terror about everyday situations that exceed normal limits. Frequently, anxiety disorders manifest through episodes of severe anxiety, fear, or terror that reach a peak within minutes — commonly referred to as panic attacks.

Reasons kids get stressed

In a child’s life, stress can be a response to any type of unpleasant change that occurs. A child’s sense of safety and security, according to Dr Yaffe, can be badly affected by even the smallest of changes. Worrying about schoolwork or grades, juggling multiple responsibilities such as school, exams, or extra-curricular activities, social difficulties with friends or peers, bullying, starting a new school or moving to a new location, experiencing low self-esteem and negative thoughts about oneself, going through puberty, and physical changes in both boys and girls, are all examples of common stressors for children.

Dr Carolyn Yaffe, Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic

Easing anxiety

Following a year of remote learning, Dr Yaffe believes that some children have suffered an emotional, mental, and developmental toll on returning to school full-time. Some youngsters believe they have fallen behind both academically and socially. While some students will be happy to see their classmates and teachers again, others who have been accustomed to online learning may feel overwhelmed in a new social environment.

Dr Yaffe’s advice is to keep an eye on your child’s behaviour when they return to school. She suggests paying attention to indicators of despair or anxiety. Some of their symptoms may include being reclusive, having difficulty sleeping, or experiencing abdominal or other bodily pain as a result of this stress. Moreover, students who may have been subjected to cyberbullying while participating in remote learning may face additional stress when participating in school social activities.

No matter how your child reacts to attending school in person, encourage open communication by asking them how they are doing. If your children exhibit any signs of depression or anxiety, it is important to acknowledge and validate their feelings. Your encouragement may urge them to remain open and honest with you. At the same time, reassure children that they are safe and that the schools are following public health recommendations to ensure their safety. You should try to make them feel secure and comfortable, as well as assure them that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.

Covid-19 and stress levels

Children may be at a loss for what to do or how to process their experiences and feelings during this period of extreme stress and fear. Changes in typical routines, such as school or social activities, may result in an increase in stress and worry. There is an elevated level of stress, worry, depression, and difficulties in controlling emotions when their schedule keeps alternating. As a result of the pandemic, family tensions have escalated, and parents have seen significant changes in their family dynamics, which can have a severe effect on their child’s mental health. Frequently, youngsters are anxious about the health of their parents and loved ones. They may know or have known people who have had cases of Covid-19 and perhaps died, which can result in intense anxiety, nightmares, and persistent and intrusive thoughts about their concerns. Parents should seek assistance from a mental health professional in these instances.

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