Mental health expert explains challenges students face with distance learning

As more Minnesota students begin distance learning, mental health experts say to watch out for signs your child is struggling.

One local mom said the challenges really hit her family hard, so they made a big decision.

Grace is a happy, healthy, smart 7-year-old girl, but the child her parents had come to know was slipping away when she was forced into distance learning last spring because of the pandemic. Within a week, Grace was suddenly emotional and moody.

“She was having difficulty sleeping, so going to bed, staying asleep, waking up in the middle of the night coming into our room saying ‘I’m not comfortable, I can’t sleep,’” her mother, Katie Channing said.

Grace was diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder, and the label pretty much explains what it is - trouble adjusting to major change. They knew she needed to find a more familiar situation - fast. So instead of at-home learning, she did school work at a day camp with other kids.

“I would say we saw a huge, huge step forward within a week or two,” Channing said.

When it comes to mental health, experts recognize distance learning can be tough on kids. They say to keep an eye out for these signs in children - mood swings, sleep and eating changes, withdrawn, saying they’re hopeless or don’t want to live.

“Teachers are required to have training on the early warning signs of mental health in children; parents do not. Teachers do not have their eyes on kids in the same way, so parents really need to be looking at this,” said Sue Abderholden with the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Minnesota.

Abderholden said families should try to keep to some sort of schedule, meditation and movement.

“Music can really help your mood, and you’re moving…moving is really important to get those endorphins going in your brain, and that relieves stress and it can actually make you smile,” she said.

Grace is doing well now, but there are still some challenges as children haven’t forgotten how things are supposed to be.

“Last week we had conferences and she kinda had to give what is one hope and dream for this school year, and her response was that she wants to meet her teacher in person,” Channing said.