Help your child manage back-to-school stress

With school almost back in session for K-12 students across Utah, mental health professionals urged parents Wednesday to talk to their kids and watch for signs of stress.

With school almost back in session for K-12 students across Utah, mental health professionals urged parents Wednesday to talk to their kids and watch for signs of stress. (Shutterstock)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — With school almost back in session for K-12 students across the state, mental health professionals urge parents to talk to their kids and watch for signs of stress.

The SafeUT application, which gives users access to crisis resources, has seen an uptick in requests for help in the past few days, said Denia Marie Ollerton, a licensed clinical social worker who oversees the app.

More people also sought help at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and, when a 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook northern Utah, according to Ollerton.

"It's so important to be recognizing and just observing your children's behavior," she said. "It's been a crazy whirlwind of a year-and-a-half for us, and so we really see people using us for a variety of those reasons."

This year, students and parents are facing normal back-to-school anxieties in addition to concerns that have arisen from more than a year with coronavirus in the state.

"You'll see some changes," Dr. C.J. Powers, director of psychology training at Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said during a virtual news conference on Wednesday.

He said some students might be "a little bit more grumpy, (and have) some difficulty sleeping, maybe some changes in appetite."

Those symptoms of anxiety are nothing to be alarmed about, Powers said.

"One thing for parents to remember is that anxiety is normal. The first thing I'd advise any parent to do is take a deep breath. Go: 'This is normal, my kid is OK, most likely,'" he said.

But if your child's symptoms of stress escalate to include stomach and muscle aches; changes in functioning; personality changes, including withdrawal; self-harm or suggestions of self-harm; or if they try to get out of going to school for multiple days, you should seek professional advice, Powers said.

If a child is continuing to do the activities they normally do, he said it's a good opportunity for them to learn how to manage stress — a vital skill for adulthood.

Powers advises parents to not attempt to shut down or dismiss their child's stress, but instead ask questions about it and normalize it. The most important thing a parent can do is try to understand where their child is coming from and validate their feelings. It can also help for a parent to relate by remembering their own stressful experiences, like starting a new job. When someone tells you not to be anxious, it can make you feel "unsupported," Powers said.

"I think as parents are starting that conversation, some ways to sort of open up those doors that are better than others … what you want to avoid is kind of the yes-no questions like, 'Hey, are you anxious?'" he said, and instead ask open-ended questions.

For some children and teens, it helps to engage them in the problem-solving process by asking them what they're doing to manage their thoughts and worries, and whether you can help. "That puts them in the driver's seat, allows them to sort of take charge of things, which can feel good," Powers explained.

Help is available 24/7 on the SafeUT app. The Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basics. The national crisis hotline is 1-800-784-2433.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

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