The Back-to-School Adventure
Right about now, most kids are paying little to no attention to anything having to do with going back to school. While the reality of school may lurk vaguely in the back of their minds, kids usually have definite feelings about going back into the classroom.
Some look forward to seeing old friends, others want to meet new ones. Some like math, others English. Some wonder about the new teacher, and others daydream about winning on the playground. This year, however, many kids might feel nervous, queasy, or afraid as a result of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One thing for certain, going back to school is always an adventure. Usually, the outlook is hopeful and fun. For some kids, however, the adventure is fraught with fear and resistance. Here are some tips to help make getting back to class a happy experience for children and for parents too.
Ready to Roll
The best place to start your child’s adventure is at your doctor’s office for a well-child visit. These visits start a few days after your child is born and continue until your child reaches 21 years of age. It’s a head-to-toe check-up that gives your doctor a chance to observe your child’s growth and development and make sure vaccines are up-to-date.
“Well-child visits are important because they give us an opportunity to take measurements, detect illnesses early and review the vaccination or immunization calendar for children,” said Lucas S. Canton, a pediatrician who is a member of Equality Health’s extensive network of healthcare professionals. “Parents can expect these medical visits to include evaluations of their children to see if they are growing and developing in normal and healthy ways.”
Ideally, the well-child visit is a yearly event for your school-aged child to reassure you that he or she is developing normally and ready to roll, ever onward to the next adventure. But what if that adventure becomes too scary and impossible to approach? What if your child doesn’t want to go because they have trouble keeping up with the lessons? Or what if your child thinks school’s entirely too boring because they aren’t challenged or don’t understand its importance? Or what if your child is stressed out because of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on children? A well-child visit can provide important insight on what to do.
Mental Health Issues on the Rise
One of the things your doctor does during a well-child visit is assess your child’s mental and emotional well-being. When healthy, your child, for the most part, has a positive attitude, pleasant social skills, and can handle emotions well enough to avoid problems or disruptions throughout the day. But your child can also have an occasional worry, experience a “down” day, and push buttons like it’s going out of style — this is normal.
When worry, fear, depression, or bad behavior become the rule rather than the exception, your doctor may diagnose a mental health issue. If so, your child would not be alone. A National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report estimated 13-20% of children (boys more likely than girls) living in the U.S. have experienced a mental disorder in a given year. These disorders not only cost individuals, families, and society an estimated $247 billion per year, if left untreated, they can also cause continued problems throughout your child’s life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the more common childhood mental disorders are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety (fear or worries) and behavior disorders. The CDC states anxiety and depression have increased over time. Other mental health disorders include learning disabilities, autism, and risk factors (for example, substance use and self-harm). Again, if not addressed, these problems can interfere with your child’s chances of a successful life.
A Good Position
As a parent, you are in the best position to notice troubling signs. Anxiety will cause your child to worry about bad things happening. He or she may be fearful about being alone or being in public places like a classroom or about certain things (dogs, insects, or traveling on a plane, for instance) and even have physical symptoms like a pounding heart, being dizzy, or always tired. If depressed, your child may become sad, hopeless, irritable or unmotivated. You may notice a change in his or her eating or sleeping habits. Maybe they get distracted easily, are disruptive in school, or show self-destructive habits or self-harm.
“It’s important that parents ask everything that worries them about the development of their child,” said Dr. Canton. “This helps us focus on specific areas of healthcare.”
The good news is your doctor can help your child deal with disorders and help with overcoming them. The answer can be as simple as a change in diet, an increase in physical activity, or a talk with the teacher on how to get your child more relaxed so they can focus on schoolwork. It may require your child to take part in behavior therapy or receives medication. Your doctor can determine which evidence-based treatment will work best for your child’s situation.
So, while you and the family enjoy the rest of the summer, remember to make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician for a well-child visit. If you need to find a doctor, go to the Equality Health website: equalityhealth.com/members/providers.
By taking your child in for a well-child visit, you may not only get the reassurance or information you need about your child, but it may also help make a difference in the way your child experiences the adventures of life, inside and outside of the classroom.
Published in Prensa Arizona, 7/15/2021