Ask an expert: Are children mentally rebounding back to a sense of normalcy?July 27, 20224 min read
With kids heading back to class and schools facing a new normal, there's a lot to consider about life post-pandemic, especially when it comes to America's children.
Recently, we sat down with Augusta University's Dr. Dale Peeples, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who treats young patients and educates parents on psychological disorders such as anxiety, ADHD and depression.
Throughout the pandemic, Peeples has also been the go-to psychiatrist for media and parents, providing tips to maintain mental wellbeing.
Q: Are children mentally rebounding or adjusting back to a sense of normalcy?
I think we are seeing an impact from the pandemic that’s continued even though life is getting much closer to what we consider normal. The impact with kids largely focuses on school, both through education and through those social interactions. I still see kids who are struggling to make up for things after falling behind during the pandemic and struggling to work back to that classroom setting when they developed a little bit of anxiety for such extended periods. You also are seeing kids dealing with a lot of regret having missed out on life, on friendships and connections, and some kids have been really struggling with how to deal with a bunch of people again.
Q: Is there a certain age group that you’ve seen that may be struggling more than others?
I think the older kids are, because when they were going through this, the more impact it had. A couple of reasons for that: Peer relationships become a lot more important as you become a teenager as compared to when you are little bit younger. Also, school becomes more demanding and sometimes that catch-up on work that was missed is going to be a little more challenging than younger grades.
Q: What would your advice be to parents to help their children mentally in these increasingly challenging times, specifically as we begin the new school year?
Communication, obviously, is still ideal. Families want to make sure that they are still getting together, having dinner as a family, discussing how the children's day went, so parents are in the loop about what kids are dealing with, trying to maintain that open line of communication. Parents also want to kind of generally be on the lookout for symptoms of depression. Obviously that's the changes in mood, feeling sad, feeling down, but also when kids kind of socially withdrawal and they lock themselves in their rooms and they don't want to go out, be around other people, do things they enjoy. When you see grades begin to decline, those are warning signs that there might be a little bit more going on here.
Q: What can children do to help themselves and make sure they feel heard?
Any time I'm sitting down with a patient for the first time and we're talking about treatment options, we'll talk about medication sometimes. We generally talk about talk therapy, behavioral and cognitive interventions. They also always talk about lifestyle interventions, healthy lifestyle, and there is a ton there that people can really do to make a big difference. The biggest thing I see kids struggle with, honestly, is sleep. Sleep has a huge impact on mood and anxiety and getting proper sleep is really tough in this day and age, when you've got cell phone notifications going off around the clock.
Q: We know kids are resilient. Those who have struggled the most over the last two years, can they turn the corner and get better?
Absolutely, I 100% agree that the kids are resilient. I'd say almost always, I share that optimistic attitude that if they have a hard time, they're going to get better. Sometimes it's just putting out the safety guards to support them and make sure that they keep on that right track.
Q: Unfortunately, school shootings are again in the news and seem to be on the rise in recent years. Are you seeing more concern and stress for children or maybe even from their parents as it relates to safety in school?
I try to remind my patients that part of the reason they get a lot of national attention is because they're infrequent and they're rare. So part of it is parents kind of controlling media for younger kids. Teenagers, obviously, they understand what's going on, and it's going to be a little bit harder for parents to monitor the media, but having those open dinner table discussions can let parents know when their kids are having worries.
This is an important topic, especially as students are heading back to school and beginning a fresh start to a new academic year. If you're a reporter looking to cover this topic, then let us help.
Dr. Dale Peeples is available to speak with media. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today.
Dale Peeples, MD Pediatric Psychiatrist / Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Peeples is a highly-regarded psychiatrist providing tips to maintain mental wellbeing throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.