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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Schools are widely back in-person and COVID-19 vaccinations for kids ages 5-to-11 are on the horizon. But these signals of a ‘return to normalcy’ don’t fully translate to children’s mental health.

That’s one message shared during an event hosted Friday by Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City. The name of this speaker series event was “Children and Parents Experiencing Increased Anxiety Returning to School and Group Settings.”

The discussion describes a ripple effect of the pandemic, with kids picking up the anxiety of their parents. In young kids the issue is presenting with a lot of ‘big’ behaviors including acting out and tantrum. Another effect might be regressive behavior like bed wetting.

In one example shared during the event, a trip to get groceries became a focus of fear for a child who was going in-store for the first time after months of home-delivery.

“And I did not realize how stressful of a situation that would be. We were obviously wearing masks. That was her first time in a public space. And I remember she saw someone who had their mask under their nose and she almost had a panic attack,” Bruce Broce, Chief Advancement Officer for JFS of Greater Kansas City, said. He also moderated the event.

Kerry Scott, a child and family therapist, answered questions during the event. She said she has worked with children and their families through the pandemic and that the whiplash of in-person versus virtual learning hurts kids who rely on predictability and structure.

For older kids, she says they are commonly struggling with separation anxiety, enflamed following extended time periods only being around their parents and not peers.

“Their frame of reference is so different from ours and that could be the source of a lot of this anxiety,” Scott said.

“I worry that there’s this tendency to think we just have to rush, rush, rush to make up for lost time and to be concerned about learning loss during the pandemic. And I hope that our educators can get permission from higher-ups and even from parents to slow it down just a little bit and really focus on social-emotional development, even with teenagers. They need it too,” Scott said.

She also said there are wider trends on aggressive behavior and suicidal ideation with more younger kids, 10-and-11-year-olds, having those feelings.

“If a child starts talking that way I encourage parents always to take it very seriously,” Scott said.

If you are thinking of hurting or killing yourself, you can call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Please get help immediately.

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