DENVER — Reports of behavior and mental health issues in schools have seen a dramatic increase following the pandemic.
A new report from the statewide Safe2Tell program shows an 89% increase in reports of possible safety issues to students in the month of September, and nearly nine in 10 public schools reported negative impacts to students social and emotional development last school year.
Mental health experts tell Denver7 they expect to see negative effects from the pandemic surface for years to come.
“As adults, we think that maybe children aren’t aware of [the stress],” said Dr. Tiamo Katsonga-Phiri, a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Denver who works with children. “Children can be aware of this at a very primal level. They understand that there’s a level of stress in the family, there’s a level of stress in the adults taking care of them. So all of these things — they don’t know how to verbalize, and this is why we see them act out.”
This summer, the National Center for Education Statistics released findings from public schools across the country, illustrating the enduring negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our education system. Eighty-seven percent of public schools reported that the pandemic has negatively impacted student socio-emotional development. Forty-nine percent reported increased rowdiness outside of the classroom, and 48% reported more acts of disrespect towards teachers and staff. More than half saw an increase in classroom disruptions caused by student behavior.
“They might yell at their friends,” Katsonga-Phiri said. “They might hurt or poke their friends, or do these things that are disruptive and just really acting out behaviors in order to communicate to the outside world what they’re feeling on the inside.”
Our students have missed out on important life lessons and experiences, Katsonga-Phiri said, especially our youngest kids, who weren’t able to meet others their age and learn how to interact with others away from their families. While she said it could take years to make up lost ground, a good place to start is by modeling some of those missed lessons for them at home.
“Parents really can, and should, lead by example,” she said. “Help them brainstorm ways that they can cope with [stress], how they can take care of themselves, who they can talk to… As a parent, definitely modeling is such an important part. So, letting your children know what you’re experiencing, and be transparent about how you’re handling it. Be honest about the fact that it’s not their fault, and then help them normalize their own feelings and help them figure out the ways to process.”