Beating back-to-school anxiety

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - From transgender bathrooms to mask-wearing, to critical race theory, mental health experts say back-to-school debates are not only stressful for parents, but also their children.

“Children thrive with consistency, and if there’s anything the world hasn’t been in the year and a half, it’s consistent,” says Director of Mental Health Services Karen Pillis.

Pillis says LGBTQ youth she’s worked with at Family Service of Roanoke Valley haven’t felt safe at school in the past, but other children may also feel uncomfortable with the state’s new bathroom policies.

“They haven’t been exposed up until now to transgender students, and they may feel uncomfortable, and it’s up to parents to teach them the difference between safety and comfort. With their discomfort will come growth and they’ll get to be sympathetic and empathetic to all children,” explains Pillis.

Schools requiring masks could make some children feel safe, and for others, could be a trigger for trauma, including children who still won’t take off their masks in public places out of fear.

“They’re as young as four and five years old,” says Pillis. “We see children who want the vaccine and we see children and hear children who say, ‘I don’t want a vaccine but I’m scared, I’m so scared that I’m going to get COVID and take it home to my grandmother, or I’m going to get COVID and I’m going to die and what is it going to look like in the hospital when I die?’ And they’re worried, they’re frightened.”

Pillis says all children and their comfort zones will be different, but it’s up to parents to be honest and proactive while addressing their concerns.

“There’s a lot of things in the world in the news that are going to make them uncomfortable; it’s up to the adults to help them to feel safe and to be the safe space for these children as they navigate this new world.”

For more information about mental health services and Family Service of Roanoke Valley, click here.

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