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'Even the most balanced person is getting affected.' Psychiatrist gives tips for parents with school-aged kids

As kids return to the classroom or to virtual learning, a psychiatrist has tips for parents.

AUSTIN, Texas — This school year is sure to look and feel different for many students.

"This year, our back-to-school preparations are not, 'How many pens do we need to buy or how many notebooks,'" said Dr. Joanne Sotelo, the division director of psychiatry with Baylor Scott and White. "It's very different. Even just a decision of, 'We're going to go to school or are we going to stay home?'"

Sotelo said it's safe to assume that kids will have some sort of emotional reaction to the news. 

Her first tip for parents is to get informed about what is going on with the community. That way, if kids have questions, parents are better equipped to answer them. 

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Sotelo also said communication will be key for parents.

"If they're very, very young, it's more about, 'Let's practice wearing the mask,' or, 'Let's practice washing our hands.' And then you role model, and you do it at the house. Middle school-aged kids might be more concerned about who's going to be there," said Sotelo, explaining high school kids will likely feel more frustration in regard to how COVID-19 will affect vacations or college. 

Sotelo's tips for parents with young kids:

  • Practice hand-washing and wearing masks at home.
  • Have kids pick out a mask they like.
    • If they like what the mask looks like, they're more likely to wear it.
  • Remind them not to share food with their classmates.
  • Pay attention to if there's any regression. This is a clue it may be time to have kids talk to a school counselor, pediatrician, or psychiatrist.
    • bed-wetting
    • clinginess
    • lack of sleep/nightmares

Sotelo's tips for parents with middle schoolers/high schoolers:

  • Be prepared for lots of questions and concerns.
  • Older kids may be more rebellious/start acting out.
  • If COVID-19 impacts their grades or behaviors to an extreme, it may be time to have kids talk to a school counselor, pediatrician or psychiatrist.
  • Remember to approach questions/concerns with empathy.

RELATED: Austin Learning Center offers tips as schools prepare to begin again with online instruction

"We need to keep on readjusting, pivoting, thinking about new ideas, being open and letting our kids be involved in all the planning so that they have that sense of self through it, too," said Sotelo. "I think that's the best way to deal with this."

She also said parents need to make sure they are checking on themselves too. 

"Even the most balanced person is getting affected," said Sotelo. "It's almost like we all have glasses that have a shade of gray. And for some people, it might be a darker gray and some people might still be a tint, because this is affecting all of us in some way or another." 

Sotelo said parents should find ways to take mental breaks throughout the day, even if it's just a quick walk to the mailbox. 

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