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Yale Health Experts Say Behavioral, Mental Health Support Key For Back To School

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public

The pandemic is raising questions about what’s best for children as they head into a new school year, as many schools continue to finalize plans for this fall and parents make individual decisions for their families.

Megan Goslin, a clinical psychologist and research scientist at Yale’s Child Study Center, said it’s a difficult time for everyone. 

“The pandemic has disrupted our routines of daily life and that includes the way that school looks,” she said. “And at the same time, it’s taken away our sense of control and just really created a lack of predictability. So, under those circumstances, it’s really understandable that a lot of kids and parents are having a wide variety of reactions, and that includes stress and anxiety.”

Goslin and other health experts at a virtual town hall Monday said kids will need behavioral and mental health support as they transition into this next phase. Most children have gone months without things like in-person instruction, summer camps and regular interaction with friends.

Dr. Jennifer Dwyer, assistant professor at the Child Study Center, said it’ll be important for parents to regularly ask their kids and teens about how they’re feeling, and she would give the same advice to teachers.

“When all of these students are going to come together after a summer where folks have had a wide range of experiences, so not just dealing with things like illness or loss of loved ones, but issues of racism or police brutality, issues of economic hardship, we don’t really know where people are coming from unless we ask,” she said.

Many people may share similar symptoms of stress that are related to the pandemic, Dwyer said, but that stress can also exacerbate underlying mood disorders in teens and young adults -- disorders that may require clinical diagnosis and treatment.

“You want to pay attention if there’s a significant decline across important domains -- the social domains, the family domain, the academic domain,” she said, “and then sort of overall health habits like eating and sleeping and energy levels.”

In addition to psychologically preparing kids for the new school year, whatever that may look like, Dr. Marietta Vazquez said another way to ensure children are well and safe is to make sure their medical health care needs are taken care of.

“When COVID is here, other diseases do not take a break,” she said. “We are still seeing all the other diseases that we were seeing.”

Vazquez is a Yale pediatrician and runs the Yale Clinic for Hispanic Children. She said kids should be up to date with their immunizations, including the influenza vaccine, whether they’re going to school in person or not.

“We’re going to start very soon to go into the flu vaccine season and it’s a virus just like COVID and we don’t want one more, we don’t want to worry about one more virus,” she said.

And for parents worried about their children with asthma, Vazquez recommended a couple of things they can do in preparation.

“Getting any viral infection in your airways can lead to an asthma attack, so it’s very important to make sure you have the medications that your children [need],” she said, “that they have at home any inhalers, medications, that you have an asthma action plan, [that] if a child is going to school, you have all the paperwork necessary.”

It’s expected that nearly all Connecticut schools will require mask wearing and social distancing for any in-person instruction. Health officials hope this will limit the number of new COVID-19 cases in the state.

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