As the new school year begins, we are full of mixed emotions.
Although we are excited as our children to have new experiences, we can’t help but worry about the stress they may feel with new challenges as well.
With growing rates of anxiety and depression among children in Utah County, there are countless theories about what is causing this increase — most being more harmful than helpful.
Professionals are overwhelmed by the unattainable demand for their services.
Not only this, but navigating health care and insurance can be messy and confusing, often times adding more anxiety to the mix.
It seems that this complex issue is just that — complex.
Those who are parents or work with children can become overwhelmed by the growing uncertainty about how to address anxiety and depression. While all of this may make us feel as if we are a tiny row boat in the middle of a raging sea, we can find calm waters by focusing on what we can control.
We know that the children in our lives need to feel safe, connected and confident, regardless of the causes or the environment. Despite this complex issue, the answer may be the simple interactions our children have each day with the adults in their lives.
Rhonda Bromley, the assistant superintendent for Alpine School District, has seen this in her schools every day.
“We all need those three things. No matter what situation, whether they are struggling or not they need to feel safe, connected, and confident. Being an educator for 28 years I see that every single day with students, children and teenagers. It’s important on every single level,” Bromley said.
We don’t have to be direct parents to have an impact on a child. In fact, some of the most influential people in a child’s life can be someone other than their direct parent.
“I think that people that work in the schools, whether they’re teachers, secretaries, custodians, counselors, lunch service workers, they have no idea the effect they can have on students with their daily interactions with them, just with comments that they make to them or even questions that they ask them,” Bromley said.
We all have a role. This issue a not just a parent issue, it is a community issue, Bromley said.
“Bus drivers are a perfect example of playing a part. They are amazing. We have hundreds of bus drivers in our district and they are the first people that see the student that day. They set the tone for the student that day.
“I love our bus drivers that know the names of all of the students, or the bus drivers that ask specific questions like how the student did in their ballgame yesterday. Or how the student did on a test yesterday the student was worried about. They merely take interest in what the student is interested in.
“I love that we have amazing bus drivers that start the day by making connections with the students. It makes all the difference,” Bromley said.
It may seem daunting to try to connect with every child in our lives, especially if you are a teacher with more than 200 students. However, we can overcome this by making small goals each day. If you have a lot of children in your life, try to connect with only five children each day. If you are a parent, make a goal to connect with one of your children by making time for only them without distractions.
Connection does not have to be big or grand. It can be as simple as asking a specific question about something they did yesterday, or playing a game with them that they enjoy. Connection is about genuine interest and persistence.
“Everyday Strong gives us great examples of being specific. In doing so, you will be making connections, but also building confidence at the same time. If you’re asking about something specific that they enjoy, they will feel proud of the things that they’re doing,” Bromley said.
As we start a new school year, this is a reminder for those who have or work with children that we can do more than we think for our struggling youth. Fulfilling their needs to be safe, connected and confident can buffer the effects of anxiety and depression and put a stop to this increasingly complex issue.