INDIANAPOLIS — Now more than ever, people are dealing with stress and anxiety — and that includes kids.
Melissa Jones has taught elementary school children for more than 20 years.
She noticed that girls in her class were struggling more and started a Girls Positivity Club.
"What I focus on is the girls because what I noticed in the classroom and from my teaching experience, girls are less confident and are showing signs of more anxiety. With the pandemic and managing e-learning, some of them are just trying to figure out how to manage not seeing their friends all the time," Jones said. "I think it's important that we help them have those positive habits and really pour into them for having good mental health and just feeling connected to other girls and just feeling like they're seen."
With the Girls Positivity Club, Jones has helped empower 150 girls by creating fun ways to relieve any stress and anxiety.
"Girls need that connection, and they need to have those positive habits instilled in them so they know what to do," Jones said. "I believe in being more proactive about it rather than reactive because if you're teaching them positive habits and teaching them how to manage anxiety in healthy ways, then it's better for everybody."
"Once I joined the club. It just made me feel like I was wanted," fifth grader Sophia said. "It relaxed me, and I felt like I could be myself. I didn't have to stress over everything, and I had a lot of confidence doing it."
And experts say it's important to help kids find that confidence — especially during the current pandemic.
Dr. Hillary Blake, who works at Riley Hospital for Children, helps kids deal with mental health issues and said they come across introverts very frequently.
"Introverts are the kids who aren't really going to talk about their feelings much with parents or are more likely to keep things to themselves," Blake said. "There's other signs that parents can look for in these kiddos who aren't willing to talk about it. We have kids who keep it in all the time, as I always describe it, but like a balloon, eventually, that balloon will pop."
She said there are several signs parents can look for to detect stress and anxiety:
- Stomach aches
- Spike in irritability
- Concentration worsens
- Easily fatigued
- Difficulty sleeping
"So, if you see a change from their baseline is when I tell parents that's concerning," Blake said. "A lot of parents with depressed kids will be like, 'no, I've actually noticed that.' And so, they can differentiate between what's a normal teen behavior staying in the room versus what's a change in their emotion."
Help kids find an outlet to relieve their anxiety, like the Girls Positivity Club, to find their voice, which is why Jones knows the program works.
"My clubs are all virtual, and I am not a therapist obviously, but I have a lot of experience in working with kids and being in the classroom. Even now, I feel really in touch with what's going on with them, so I'm able to be very responsive to what they need," Jones said. "Even last night, we were making cupcakes over a Zoom call, so I called them confidence cupcakes and taught them about confidence while we were making the cupcakes."
"When I was little, I was always around people that didn't want to play with me. I was never positive until I found the club," fifth grader Lucy Meyers said. "I think the club could impact so many girls by joining it."
Experts also suggest parents ask questions, really listen to their kids, observe changes in behavior and set a positive example.