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What IL parents, educators can do to address sadness, stress among students this fall

Belleville News-Democrat - 7/30/2021

Jul. 30—Some southwestern Illinois parents say their children had mental health challenges in the last school year because they struggled to connect, keep up with lessons and deal with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's one of the main reasons they are pushing local school boards to let them send their children back to school in the fall without a face covering.

Niki Grajewski, a child mental health expert in southern Illinois, said anxiety, fear and frustration are normal reactions to any "adverse experience," including a pandemic. She has advice for parents and educators as students prepare to start another academic year with the coronavirus.

Grajewski is the clinical manager for Centerstone's family services program. Centerstone is a not-for-profit health system that specializes in mental health and substance abuse treatment. Grajewski's program supports about 50 southern Illinois schools' mental health services. She has been a licensed clinical social worker since 2005.

"The things that we've been seeing from kids and even from parents and families, even their anger towards things not going the way they want with school, that's all completely explainable because of the circumstances that we're all living in right now," Grajewski said. "... I also think it's given us all a chance to figure out how to deal with stress and anxiety in more healthy ways."

She offered three things that adults at home and in the classroom can do to support the mental health of children:

—Communicate: Grajewski said families and school communities should help students feel comfortable talking about their mental health concerns. "Based on children's age, their mental health concerns, their capacity to understand information, I think it can be helpful to include them as much as possible and (explain) what's happening, why it's happening," she said. "... Whether or not you can do anything about the things happening around a child, listening and supporting I think overall are really important."

—Be flexible: Grajewski said adults can model flexibility for children during the pandemic, when the chance of changes is high, because kids will respond the way that they see other people respond. And adults should try different approaches to help children adjust based on what works for the child, according to Grajewski. "For example, when stressed, some young people need to stay busy," she said. "They need to be in sports. They need to be in clubs. They need to be in music. But on the other hand, some kids when stressed need to be alone. They need quiet time. They need calming activities."

—Nurture: Grajewski said spending time with kids and listening without judgment can help them deal with their stress and fear in times of uncertainty. "The last thing a child struggling with depression, for example, needs from an adult is to feel judged, devalued, disrespected, unloved," Grajewski said.

Learn more about Centerstone by calling 877-HOPE123 or visiting


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