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Coping with Back-to-School Anxiety

Guest Bio: Raunak Khisty, MD, MPH
Dr. Khisty completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences in Karad, India. He went on to receive his Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology from The University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health located in Houston, TX. Dr. Khisty also completed a Psychiatry Residency and a Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Dr. Khisty is board certified in general psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He is a member of several professional associations. As a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospitalist, Dr. Khisty sees patients at Riverside Medical Center.
    Coping with Back-to-School Anxiety
    Dr. Raunak Khisty shares how to help your child cope with anxiety surrounding returning to school.

    Liz Healy (Host):  Hello listeners. And thank you for tuning in to Well Within Reach podcast brought to you by Riverside Healthcare. I'm your host, Liz Healy and joining me today is Dr. Khisty, who is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist here at Riverside Medical Center. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Khisty.

    Raunak Khisty, MD, MPH (Guest): Thank you for having me, Liz.

    Host: Can you give us a little bit of background about yourself, Dr. Khisty?

    Dr. Khisty: Yes, I am a Board Certified Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and I currently work at Riverside Medical Center on an Inpatient Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit.

    Host: Okay. So something that you may have either began to deal with or may deal with now coming into the school year is that anxiety that some students may be facing as the last school year was not a typical one. So, are there some trends and behaviors that could be seen in kids that, you know, experienced the pandemic and they may have reacted differently to this hybrid style of learning that happened?

    Dr. Khisty: Absolutely. Kids have faced a lot of challenges during the COVID-19 era, primarily one of the biggest changes they had to experience was distance learning. And with distance learning came a new set of challenges with online school. So, this led to a lot of kids having difficulty staying focused, staying motivated, staying organized, and really completing their work on time. In addition, a lot of kids really struggled with their social life, right? So, as we know, along with academics, really social interactions are really important. And a lot of kids, especially teenagers, felt very disconnected from their peers. The other big aspect that we've not focused as much on is athletics. A lot of children missed out on a lot of athletic chances that they had. And again, physical health and wellness is so important and connected with mental health.

    And so when they missed out on athletics, that really affected them in a completely different way. Furthermore, transitions and losses have been a big part, right? A lot of kids missed their graduations, they missed their vacations. They missed internships. Teenagers who are going off to college were not able to go to college now. You know, those are, that can cause a lot of sense of loss. And I think one of the last ones that I do want to mention is online life, right? I mean, children we're online all the time. And so that caused a lot of conflicts with some parents or caregivers who were trying to limit their activities online. So, children really faced a lot of challenges this past year.

    Host: For sure. Are there, you kind of touched on it, but are there behaviors that a parent could be mindful of or watch for that kind of indicate that a child might have PTSD from last year or might be kind of dealing with and coping with anxiety going into this year?

    Dr. Khisty: Absolutely, I think extreme worry, right, that is out of the ordinary, is a big warning sign. Feelings of sadness, moping, crying all the time. That is really unusual for your child. Right. I think those are big warning signs. Problems with sleep, problems with appetite. Again, that is unusual for children. For those of you who have teenagers, you probably know your teen probably eats at odd hours. Your teen probably sleeps at odd hours, right? So, that is nothing abnormal. Right? I'm talking about sleep and appetite changes that are out of the ordinary for your child. I think those are pretty big warning signs.

    Host: Okay. And if these are signs that a parent might have seen in their child, is there something that they could do to kind of talk to them about it or bring awareness to what they might be experiencing?

    Dr. Khisty: Absolutely. I think having an open communication with your child about what they're going through is really important. And I think one of the biggest things that parents really need to understand is they have to talk to their child at their developmental level. For example, you're not going to talk to teenagers in the same way that you're going to talk to children, really young children. I think it's very important to acknowledge to both children and teenagers, that the last year has been a different one, you know. COVID-19 is, there are a lot of unknowns associated with it as well. I think so, it's okay to acknowledge that as well. And then once you're able to acknowledge and kind of, get to the same level with them about, hey, I get it, you know, it's been a different year for all of us and then can go into what are you kind of experiencing, like, are you upset about X, Y, or Z? Right. May be online schooling, may be lack of social life, lack of athletics, and then see what the child tells you.

    Host: Okay. So, we've talked about talking to the kid, but what if the parent is having some type of anxiety with sending their child back to school? Is there something that you can suggest for the parent to think about and keep in mind as their child goes back?

    Dr. Khisty: Yes. Definitely. There are a lot of advances with COVID-19 that we have had recently, the pace of vaccination has gone up, but I mean, society has opened up quite a bit now. So, I do want to reassure parents, hey, you know, we are headed down the right track. The other thing I do want to talk to parents about is make sure that you're transitioning your child back to school, right? I think it's going to be helpful, not only for the parent, but also for the child to transition your child back to school. The past year has been challenging. I think we all have to keep that in mind before school starts.

    Host: Yeah. So, you said transitioning back to school, what are some kind of recommendations you could give to help us transition that back to school?

    Dr. Khisty: Yes. Getting back to a routine is one of the biggest things I would recommend because since people have been working from home and children have been at school or rather home schooled, scheduled to have kind of gone out the window.

    You know, our schedules regarding to eating times, getting up times, school time, have significantly changed. So, getting back to a routine is going to be very important. Right. So what time do you get up? What time do you go to school? You want to start modeling those situations. And I think that's going to be very key is getting back to a routine.

    And the second thing that's going to be key is limiting online activity because now when in school like school starts in person, certainly are not going to have the same amount of time online. I think it's very important to prepare them for that.

    Host: Yes. So, preparing the children for not having that time online and getting them into the mindset of talking to people in person and interacting with people and getting back into that routine, if you will. Are apparent and you see some of these anxiety behaviors and worry behaviors in your child, is there something that you can do or somewhere that maybe there's someone they can talk to that isn't the parent, if they're not comfortable talking to the parents?

    Dr. Khisty: Absolutely. I think there are multiple resources that we have in our county. One of the biggest resources is your school itself. Most of the schools in our county have social workers, trained, professional social workers who can help, not only you, but also your child process some of these, some of these challenges that they're facing. Furthermore, we also have SAS agencies that is the Helen Wheeler SAS Center that we have in Kankakee county, they also have a lot of licensed therapists. Furthermore, you can also approach Riverside Medical Center. We have a central intake department, 24/7 rain, sunshine, snow, you know, they're always present. And you can also absolutely call our office at Riverside Medical Center, Psychiatric Associates. And they can absolutely help you out.

    Host: Okay. Is there anything else that we could keep in mind as we start going back to school and coping with the anxiety that goes with going back to school?

    Dr. Khisty: Yes. I just want to let people know and reassure them, hey, things are headed in the right direction. You know, we have had a challenging year and things are getting back on track. So, I wish everybody all the very best.

    Host: Okay, thanks for joining us today, Dr. Khisty, and thank you listeners for tuning into the Well Within Reach podcast with Dr. Khisty, our Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Riverside Medical Center and your host Liz Healy. To learn more about the services provided by Riverside's Behavioral Medicine Department, visit our website at riversidehealthcare.org or call our central intake department at 844-442-2551.