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Amid pandemic, experts say addressing children's mental health is key

Experts say the nation’s children, much like their parents, are facing unprecedented strain and pressure, in part because of the uncertainty COVID created in schools.
The omicron variant is creating instability within the nation’s school districts. At times, that is causing some schools to temporarily close.
There are several steps parents can take to take stock of their children’s mental health. It starts, experts say, with parents taking care of themselves and their own well-being.
Posted at 3:08 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 15:08:50-05

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The omicron variant is creating instability within the nation’s school districts. That includes, at times, temporary closures.

“There was a staff shortage that led to the closure,” said Jennifer Miller-Arsenault, interim superintendent of the Washington Central USD in Vermont.

Some school districts are even asking parents to help substitute teach, like one Texas school district did as it faced a slew of teacher absences from COVID.

"We are extending the offer to parents just to allow them to come in and help us out,” said Eric Wright, superintendent of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District.

Experts say those who are most vulnerable to all the school disruptions are the students.

“Our young people have been faced with a tremendous amount of uncertainty,” said Dr. Benjamin Miller, a former educator and president of the Well Being Trust, a national mental health organization. “Our nation's mental health wasn't doing well before COVID, and that includes our kids.”

Overall, he said the nation’s children, much like their parents, are facing unprecedented strain and pressure, in part because of the uncertainty COVID created in schools.

“We know we have a problem,” Miller said. “Children's hospitals have declared a mental health crisis, a state of emergency.”

He added there are several steps parents can take to take stock of their children’s mental health. It starts with parents taking care of themselves.

“This is a small thing that we, as parents sometimes forget,” Miller said. “But if you're not able to actually take care of your own mental health, you're really not going to be able to be good to the kids.”

Second, he said parents need to start by simply asking their children how they’re doing.

“We sometimes forget that it is so simple to be able to ask the question, ‘How are you doing?’” Miller said. “And we're not always prepared for what happens when people say that they're not doing well.”

Lastly, Miller said don’t be afraid to call in professional help.

“Begin with your pediatrician,” he said. “Talk to the folks you have a trusted relationship with and talk to the individuals that you might know in the mental health community. There are resources out there that can provide supports for your kids.”

He added that it is important that parents and children everywhere know that they’re not alone in facing this.

“This is a tough time for all of us,” he said. “Hang in there. We're going to be better together.”