EARLY YEARS: Watch kids' mental health as they head back to school

SALEM, Va. (WDBJ7) - Heading back to school can lead to anxiety and even depression in some children. Early intervention can help prevent a problem from getting bigger.

Play therapist and counselor Jennifer Thomas says getting kids to talk about their feelings is crucial. WDBJ7 photo

Jennifer Thomas uses play therapy and other techniques with her young clients.

"Well, I think really the most important thing about that is early on, trying to let kids know that we understand, and I'd say let them know that we get it," she says.

While Thomas specializes in children entering preschool and kindergarten, she says the start of the school year can bring stress to kids at any age. Some apprehension is normal.

"But when kids are having difficulties for several weeks, that's when we're concerned that there's more going on."

Among the signs to look for: changes in sleep habits, changes in appetite, headaches and stomach aches.

Thomas says parents can't always tell what's bothering their children.

"Often it's something that makes sense to them that wouldn't necessarily be something that we would realize that they might be afraid of."

If parents notice these signs for longer than a month, Thomas says they should talk with their child's teacher, guidance counselor or pediatrician to see if a mental health evaluation is needed.

That can help prevent something more serious, such as depression or suicidal thoughts when they get older.

"Sometimes, it's just a little thing, but little things can sometimes do become big things because they become part of our thinking about ourselves."

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