Counselors seeing increase in students struggling with school anxiety, social skills

NOW: Counselors seeing increase in students struggling with school anxiety, social skills

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- One month into the school year, it seems students are struggling more than usual.

Parents, teachers, and medical professionals are noticing school burnout, indicating that a return to "normalcy" hasn't been easy.

In a national survey conducted by The Goddard School in September, 61% of parents said they believe the pandemic has put their child behind socially and developmentally.

Counselors in the Milwaukee area told CBS 58 they are seeing the effects first-hand.

Tammy Makhlouf, the manager of the Yabuki Mental Health Clinic at Children's Wisconsin, has had an influx of walk-in patients over the last month.

"We've had an increase in school anxiety, school avoidance, anxiety in general," Makhlouf said.

She believes a two-year shortage of face-to-face problem-solving is showing social consequences, especially in kids under 12 years old.

"There is bullying going on, there's fights going on. So, kids are just learning how to navigate conflict. They're learning how to navigate their feelings," Makhlouf said. "They're acting out behaviorally because they don't have the words or the language to say, 'I'm feeling stressed out.'"

Many schools nationwide are hoping to address these issues by incorporating social-emotional learning tactics, including Wauwatosa School District.

"When we talk about things like goal-setting, healthy relationships, emotion management, there's lots of different skills and competencies that go within that, and there's lots of ways we meet those needs within the classroom," said Emilie O'Connor, the director of student success at Wauwatosa Schools.

The district is building on that goal this year with additional staff members as social emotional specialists and mental health specialists to collaborate with the school's psychologists and counselors.

"The last couple of years were difficult for all of us, and I'm sure as parents and educators alike, we want to work collaboratively to best support students," O'Connor said.

Experts say the best way to focus on your student's progress is through open communication.

"Check in with your child. Talk to your child. If they are struggling, get them some help," Makhlouf said.

The walk-in mental health clinic at Children's Wisconsin is teaching kids coping and communication strategies, while also educating families about anxiety management.

The Craig Yabuki Walk-In Mental Health Clinic is open for children ages 5-18.

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