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School Psychologist Offers Tips Amid Back-To-School, COVID-19 Anxieties

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on many parents’ mental health.

If parents are feeling stressed about the unpredictability, chances are children are feeling it, too.

Kirsten Mele, a school psychologist and a board member for the Utah Association of School Psychologists, said she’s been seeing a new kind of back-to-school anxiety.

She said students are worried about what class is going to look like, if their friends are going to be there, and if they’ll be able to interact with them. They’re also worried about following COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Some of those fears have been projected onto them by their parents, Mele said.

“My biggest advice to parents is to try to stay calm and confident,” she said. “Let your children know, yes, it is going to be hard and different, but empower your children to know, yes, they can do this very difficult thing.”

Mele said the best thing parents can do is to listen and validate their children’s feelings – and then encourage them.

She also noted parents need to pay attention in the weeks and months ahead.

“I would watch for changes in sleep patterns, eating patterns, someone is sleeping more than usual,” Mele said. “Listen to what they’re saying. If they’re starting to talk more negative about school, if there are changes in personality and things are bothering them more, those are all good signs to watch for. Then reach out to the school and seek help because that is what we’re here for.”

She said most schools in Utah have a psychologist, a school counselor or a social worker. Sometimes schools have two of the three.

Those resources aren’t just available to students, either. Mele said teachers and staff have the ability to reach out to those individuals who are trained to help with mental health.

Mele also suggested making back-to-school fun for students. This can include getting children masks that reflect their personalities and incorporating deep breathing and relaxation exercises that students can do on their own if they’re getting stressed at school.

Click here for the UASP’s tips for parents during the back-to-school transition.

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