How parents can help their kids navigate mental health concerns

Updated: Aug. 27, 2021 at 6:00 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - At home learning last school year was a challenge for everyone -- kids, their parents and teachers.

But with a shift from remote learning to in-person full time, mental health challenges that students may have faced last year won’t necessarily be erased this year.

“I haven’t seen things dying down,” said Dr. Brian Weiland, a psychologist at Behavioral Health Clinic in Wausau. “I think there’s definitely a lot of uncertainty with how things are going to look. What we can probably expect is a lot of stress from our kids, a lot of stress from our parents. Everybody is concerned about what it means to be around a lot of people.”

Dr. Weiland said cases of clinical depression and general anxiety are the most common mental health concerns, and symptoms could easily be exacerbated for those who are more anxiety-prone or socially anxious.

“It just seems to me like there are new problems on top of problems that were always there,” he said.

It bears repeating that mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. That’s why he said it’s especially important for parents to be the first line of defense and be on the lookout for any dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits or how their kids socialize.

“We can gain that data by our observation, by watching,” explained Dr. Weiland.

He added that it can be difficult for some children and teens to recognize or admit they’re not feeling mentally healthy, and that’s why he urges parents to take the first step. He said that can start with a simple ‘How was your day?’”

“Asking those sorts of questions can be really good because sometimes it may seem outwardly that things are going okay, but once we start talking to the person, it’s maybe not,” said Dr. Weiland. “I think that parents sometimes are worried to spend time talking about negative feelings, in fear that they’re having their kid dwell on it.”

But he encouraged parents to hang in there with the emotion your child is expressing.

“Instead of, ‘Well but things will change, things will look different’. Instead of going there, it might be a nice idea to say something like, ‘Gosh that does sound sad’, or’ That makes sense to me too, I think I’d feel sad in a situation like that as well’, and seeing where that goes. Because that opens the door and keeps the door open for the conversation of sadness and sorrow and all that.”

Dr. Weiland said it’s also important for parents to practice self-care. And while it’s ok for parents to be authentic and feel stress, just be cautious on how that’s expressed around you little ones, as they can easily take on those same feelings.

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