By their nature, kids are social creatures.

So, being forced to be away from their friends during this time of social distancing and distance learning may be taking more of a toll on them than one might initially recognize.

With that in mind, the mental health team from the Redwood Area School District offered some guidance for parents as they move through the rest of this month with the potential of finishing the 2019-20 academic year without walking back into the building.

“I think it is safe to say that these are unprecedented times,” explained Jackie Ourada, Reede Gray Elementary School social worker, adding one can’t be sure of the full magnitude of the issues. “Just as the news changes minute to minute, I think we, too, are going to see many changes in mental health, especially in dealing with anxiety and trauma, evolving and into the future due to this pandemic.”

Students and adults alike are feeling scared, nervous, anxious and frustrated, and these feelings can lead to lasting mental health struggles, added Ourada. 

When dealing with uncertainties, change and disappointment in this time of COVID-19, Ourada continues to be optimistic. She added all of what is happening provides an opportunity for people to learn and to practice the values of caring for others and connecting with neighbors and other family members (through social distancing).

It is important, Ourada added, for people to find a purpose in what they are doing.

What types of issues can arise in kids who are not in school and are not seeing their teachers and friends?

According to Cindy Wittwer Swierenga, who works with students at Redwood Valley schools, one of the biggest mental health issues will be anxiety due to the lack of control over what is happening with coronavirus along with depression from social isolation.

“Even though we are in contact via technology, we need physical contact,” explained Swierenga.

It is the fear of the unknown that is leading to concerns in the lives of students and adults, said Heather Vranicar, Redwood Valley High School guidance counselor.

“Most people function best with structure and knowing what to expect,” added Vranicar. “It creates a lot of anxiety to imagine all of the possibilities about how the world around us is going to change.”

Anxiety can also manifest itself as people don’t know what is expected of them.

“The inability to physically be with each other is something that many of us will miss and crave. We are social beings and when people are not able to be physically near each other or get a hug or high five from each other, people may begin to feel disconnected or alone,” said Jenn Otto, Redwood Valley schools social worker. “The physical touch releases chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. This is something, I know, I miss from the students.”

How big of an issue can social distancing be for kids? Why do kids need to connect?

Kids by nature are social creatures. So social distancing can be extremely difficult. They may want to continue on doing some of the “normal” kid things, but now have to do so in a totally new way.

In addition, kids can often feel invincible, not thinking it is possible to get sick or to get someone else sick. This in combination with wanting to interact with peers makes for a very difficult time.

According to Ourada, “We all have a need to connect and feel part of something and social distancing can lead to isolation and loneliness which isn’t good at all for one’s mental health. Yet, one thing that I feel we are learning to do differently is connecting more by using face to face contact with technology instead of texting, which can actually improve one’s mental health by seeing someone visually (not just by text). The pandemic might help some become more connected in real ways by actually talking to and seeing one another, even if by distance.”

Read more on this topic in an upcoming article.