AUGUSTA, Ga. (WFXG) - As your student heads back to school, you may want to talk about more than just grades. A local child psychiatrist says consider making mental health a top priority! AU Health Child Psychiatrist Dr. Dale Peeples says we’re seeing continued impact from the pandemic, despite changes to COVID-19 safety protocol. That’s why Dr. Peeples encourages parents to keep dialogue open.

Kids across the CSRA are making their way back to the classroom. However, Dr. Peeples says it may not be as exciting for every student.

“Being in that classroom setting, getting along with a large group that’s not just family, it’s been a challenge for some kids.” said Dr. Peeples.

Even before COVID-19, the CDC found 1 in 5 children had a mental disorder, but only about 20% of those children received care from a mental health provider.  Dr. Peeples believes the pandemic impact can be harder for certain age groups and can also manifest in academics.

"Being removed from your friends is tougher to deal with for those older kids. Also, school becomes more demanding and sometimes that catchup on work that was missed is going to be a little more challenging than younger grades.” said Dr. Peeples.

Helping your kids can begin with ensuring a healthy lifestyle.

“Talking to kids about trying to get minimum eight, maybe even better, 10 hours of rest, keeping the electronics out of the bedroom that can go a long way. Exercise also will help just with emotional state, reducing anxiety, and help with sleep.” said Dr. Peeples.

Ultimately, Dr. Peeples says kids are resilient, which means parent involvement can help get them back on track.

"Parents really paying attention to their child seeing where they've got strengths and trying to channel their activities and interest into those places where a child sees themselves as successful can kind of build that self-esteem and help them on their road to recovery too." said Dr. Peeples. 

Outside of regular communication, parents are encouraged to keep an eye out for social media posts, too. 

“That can be a key into what's going on in the child's world when sometimes they might be a little reluctant to share with their parents.” said Dr. Peeples.

If your child withdraws socially or shows grade decline, Dr. Peeples says this could mean they need help.

"Parents also want to kind of generally be on the lookout for symptoms of depression. Obviously that's the changes in mood. Feeling sad, feeling down, but also when kids kind of socially withdrawal and they lock in their rooms and they don't want to go out, be around other people do things they enjoy. When you see grades begin to decline, you know, those are warning signs that there might be a little bit more going on here." said Dr. Peeples.

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