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Protecting Keiki Mental Health during Back-To-School: Recognizing and Handling Mental Health Distress

This week we are posting Part 2 of our three-part blog series on protecting keiki mental health. Part 1 of this blog series addressed promoting mental health at home. If you missed this blog post, check it out here! Today, we are discussing how to identify and deal with mental health challenges that keiki may face. Check back in next Tuesday, September 14 for the final post of this blog series that will focus on creating a plan for dealing with keiki stress and anxiety.

Part 2 Recognizing and Dealing With Mental Health Distress in Keiki

Artwork by Yuko Green

A study done by Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago found that 71% of parents believed the pandemic negatively impacted their child’s mental health, and 69% of parents felt that the pandemic “is the worst thing to happen to their child.” Adding in the unfamiliar back to school environment may further exacerbate keiki anxiety. Although stress and anxiety present themselves differently in every child, common signs of mental health distress include: 

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased irritability or mood changes
  • Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Concentration issues
  • Frequent tantrums (more common in younger keiki)
  • Decrease in academic performance (more common in older keiki)

While some of these symptoms may occur in keiki intermittently, if any of these symptoms are present for at least one or two weeks, or if keiki are unable to complete normal daily activities, this may be a sign of a more serious mental health issue, and parents may want to consider seeking professional help. Parents can visit to explore options for seeking help. 

Some keiki (especially younger keiki) may also experience separation anxiety at the beginning of the school year.  To deal with this, parents can reassure keiki that they are safe, by explaining to keiki what parents and the school are doing to protect them. Additionally, parents can practice short periods of separation from their keiki to show them that they’ll be okay, or create a special goodbye routine, such as a hug. 

Tune in next week for the final part of this blog series on keiki mental health!

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Keiki Heroes promotes health education materials that are culturally relevant and age-appropriate to support the physical, mental, emotional, and social health of children in Hawai‘i. We believe that keiki can be heroes by helping themselves and others to adopt healthy habits to support community health.

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As of 2022, Keiki Heroes became a project under Hawai‘i Public Health Institute.