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Psychiatrist gives parents tips to help kids return to educational setting

PHOENIX — As children and their families prepare for the upcoming school year, one mental health expert is advising guardians how to mitigate side effects students may experience due to an abrupt return to an academic atmosphere.

“After being home for nearly half the year, there’s some children that may not be fully mentally and socially conditioned to jump right back into the full academic environment,” Dr. Larry Mitnaul, a psychiatrist, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Friday.

To help their children transition back into a learning environment, Mitnaul said parents must be patient with themselves and others around them since this upcoming school year is going to be an ongoing process.

Mitnaul also advised parents to engage in simple, open talk with their children.

“Ask them what their hopes, aspirations and maybe some of their fears and frustrations about what his next year will bring,” he added.

These questions will help parents gauge where their children are and how much they know, according to Mitnaul.

An open conversation can be the beginning of addressing any important gaps that may be within their knowledge — whether regarding returning to school, why they’re not isolated anymore or the coronavirus pandemic as a whole.

“You can imagine a preschooler or kindergartener that has some awareness of COVID-19 may have some kind of fanciful magical beliefs about how it gets transmitted or what it might do and what the consequences might be,” Mitnaul said.

“Sometimes a very simple answer can be the thing that decreases their sense of worry or dread.”

The mental health professional also said parents shouldn’t be surprised if their children display stagnation or regression when it comes to social interactions.

Due to the widespread use of face coverings, Mitnaul said children may be struggling to accurately interpret social cues.

If a child can’t see someone smile or read someone’s expression, they may act different than usual, according to Mitnaul.

He said he’s already seen a major decrease in his adolescent patients’ social skills due to the social constraints of face masks.

Mitnaul has also advised parents and guardians to establish routines that’ll help children succeed as much as possible when they finally return to an educational setting.

Introducing a set bed time, wake up time, lunch and dinner time and play time will provide children with the the sort of structure necessary for success, Mitnaul said.

While the coronavirus pandemic has upended normalcy in the lives of parents and their children, Mitnaul said established routines can better equip students to navigate uncertain times.

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