WACO, Texas (FOX 44) – It’s back to school time across Central Texas, and the Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network says this means children’s and educators’ mental health awareness is essential for the annual change from the summer routine.

The Network said in a press release on Thursday that as the local mental health authority for McLennan, Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, and Limestone Counties, it is here to help with expertise from its Klaras Center for Families staff.

“Kids tend to have a hard time any time they have to change their schedule and routine. Kids, especially younger kids, thrive when they have a consistent schedule,” said Katie Chadwell, Child, and Adolescent Therapist at the Heart of Texas Behavioral Network’s Klaras Center for Families. “During the summer, kids and teenagers can generally choose their level of social interaction and often, social interaction is individual interactions or small group interactions. Going back to school where there are hundreds of children surrounding them can be a very difficult transition.”

Chadwell stresses the 2022-2023 school year might unique challenges which can have an effect on mental health.

“This year, children aren’t as worried about schools closing down and then re-opening multiple times because of COVID exposures, which does provide a sense of security and consistency that we haven’t seen the past few years. However, many children, mainly younger children, have never experienced a “normal”, pre-COVID, school year. So, this year is going to look a lot different for them than previous years which can create feelings of anxiety and uncertainty,” Chadwell said. “Additionally, even the children and teens that have experienced “normal”, pre-COVID, school years before having not experienced that the past few years, so the adjustment back to more consistent, in person, learning can be difficult. One positive for this school year is that most schools are resuming extra-curricular activities which can help children with socialization skills, help them develop interests, help reduce feelings of stress, and help increase feelings of self-confidence.

Chadwell added that parents and education staff should be mindful of mental health indicators in the first few weeks of the new school year.

“Some level of stress and anxiety is expected in most children and teens throughout the first few weeks of school as they adjust to the change in their schedule,” Chadwell said. “Caregivers and teachers can help children and teens with the transition to a school schedule by letting kids know what is coming next. This might mean that every night before bed, caregivers tell children what’s on the schedule for the next day, or it might mean teachers letting children know what tomorrow’s class is going to look like. Also, caregivers checking in with children each night and letting them know that it’s ok to talk about their feelings can be helpful so that children and teens know that they have someone to turn to if they are struggling.”