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CLAY COUNTY — As the ongoing pandemic means families continue to adapt and navigate new life challenges including detailed reentry plans school districts created for the 2020-21 school year, experts are hoping to help families handle the situational stress.

“One of the biggest things we as adults can do is to let kids know how important their feelings are,” said Angie Winkler, clinical liaison for Signature Psychiatric Hospital’s North Kansas City and Liberty campuses. “As adults, we are quick to say, ‘Don’t worry’ or we are quick to give them our perspective. Rather, we need to honor their feelings and share that we don’t know what will happen, but we will figure it out.”

Winkler said while school reentry plans include resources to aid students’ social and emotional well-being, parents and guardians can also help.

“As parents, we can listen as children talk about going back to school,” she said. “They are going to be asked to wear masks and may worry about that. For older kids, especially those in middle and high school, create a space to let them know they can come to you, but you aren’t pressuring them.”

As kids begin school, they may need reassurance teachers and staff are working to keep them safe, said Winkler.

“If we can share a message that we can all work together, it will help,” she said. “As adults, we can talk about how we make the best of a situation while also saying that we get frustrated. Adults should be transparent. We can share that we find this time hard and that we are figuring everything out, too.”

Winkler said children may also feel anxiety from parents working from home or economic stress if there has been a job loss in the home.

“Despite all this, kids are resilient,” Winkler said. “Relationships are critical keys. If our kids have consistent, strong relationships with adults, they will feel safer and supported. Over and over again, I say that kids’ mental health comes first and then their education. They have to feel secure before they can do math. It’s going to take a team approach.”

The same is true for those being home-schooled or dealing with distance learning, Winkler said.

“Especially with virtual learning, parents and guardians need to have constant and consistent communication with teachers,” she said. “Parents are anxious that their kids will get behind academically, but the more mentally healthy they are, academics will be better.”

Signs of mental distress, Winkler said, include sleeplessness, aggression and listlessness.

“As we have our temperatures taken, parents can regularly check in with children to take their ‘feelings temperature’ and suggest ways to practice coping,” she said.

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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