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Experts urge parents to have open dialogue with children about mental health as they head back to school

Experts urge parents to check in with kids' mental health as they head back to school
Experts urge parents to check in with kids' mental health as they head back to school 02:24

NEW YORK -- As kids head back to school, it's important to check in on their mental health.

CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis got tips from experts and sat down with a local parent.

"The pandemic did a number on everyone, right?" Eastchester parent Katia Brinkman said.

The past two years sure have been difficult for everyone, especially kids.

Brinkman shared how her family has been impacted.

"My daughter was completely anxious. She is 11 ... My 17-year-old, like, I feel like he missed out on so many social things," she said. "It's been really, really hard for them."

With that, the mother of three is constantly communicating with her children.

"We talk about mental health and what COVID kind of did to us and how hard it was for everyone," she said.

As kids head back to school, licensed clinical social worker Michael Tozzoli says open dialogue is important, along with prioritizing connections.

"It allows kids to actually express themselves, and it builds trust in the world, where it's not quite as scary as it seems. We can rely on each other and really connect with each other," he said.

He also suggests:

  • Sticking to a schedule, saying predictability is what helps kids feel safe,
  • Always be listening to your kids, and
  • Think about how you react to stress.

"Remember that kids watch everything we do," Tozzoli said. "You want to kind of take some time to step back as an adult and as a parent to reflect on, what does my kid see when I feel stressed out?"

Tozzoli says it's important to prioritize mental health the way you would physical health. Don't wait to seek care.

"Small fires are so much easier to put out than big fires, so reach out sooner than later," he said.

New York City resident Marina Khidekel came up with a different way to cope, creating weighted stuffed animals called "Hugimals."

"They're for anxiety relief. They also help with sleep and can help with focus," she said. "They combine the physical stress relieving properties of a weighted blanket with the emotional connection of a favorite stuffed animal."

No matter your approach, Dr. Nance Roy, with the Jed Foundation, says it's important to recognize while the pandemic may be behind us, the impact is not.

"It doesn't just go away. It lasts for a while, so we need to continue to be mindful about what we're seeing in our students, and do our best to support them," she said. "There is a silver lining to the pandemic, and that is that it has brought mental health to the forefront of folks' minds."

Experts are hoping mental health remains a priority, especially for our kids.

Roy also raised another important point:  our kids are not just struggling with the pandemic but everything happening in the world, from school shootings, to racial violence and hate crimes, driving home the importance of keeping the dialogue going.

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