DAYTON , Ohio (WDTN) — Elana Bernstein, assistant professor of school psychology at the University of Dayton, said the number of incidents of mental health difficulties among children was increasing even before the pandemic, and the pandemic only worsened the problem.

“With events like what happened in Uvalde, it can tend to resurface some of that for kids that are already tending to struggle mental health-wise,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said it is crucial for kids to learn coping skills early in life, so they are able to manage internal stress.

“The earlier we can give them the tools and the language to do that, then the more likely we are to prevent future worsening of mental health problems,” Bernstein said.

She said a good first step is to keep an open line of communication and normalize feelings of anxiousness.

“They assume they are the only ones that are struggling with this, so we can normalize this and say sometimes we go through situations and this is what happens, and sometimes we don’t feel like ourselves,” Bernstein explained.

Bernstein also recommends paying attention to signs that your child might be struggling. This could be changes in patterns of eating and sleeping, or a change in not wanting to go to school.

“It might come out in withdrawal, rapid mood swings, irritability, kids that are overly sensitive or having tantrums, or explosive behavior or sadness,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein also points out the need to be proactive about mental health, calling on the resources available for parents through schools and other organizations. She also emphasized the need for a key emotion.

“Empathy is a big missing piece, And that is something we can teach and model empathy to our kids, and teach empathy directly. And I think those are some of the ways we can move forward,” Bernstein explained.

Bernstein also stressed parents should not be ashamed to reach out to a counselor or therapist for their child. There are resources available statewide and across the Miami Valley to help kids who are struggling.