MCALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Although the Rio Grande Valley’s covid numbers are down compared to the last two years, the impact of the pandemic on young children, has left them with new, unsettling emotions.
When covid broke out across the U.S. in early 2020, Holand Miller was a second grader with McAllen ISD. Now, she’s finishing her fourth-grade year at Ben Milam Elementary.
Her brother, Kern was a fourth-grader at the beginning of covid. He’s now finishing his sixth-grade year at Morris Middle School.
Holand told ValleyCentral she was “very overwhelmed” as there wasn’t enough information to understand what was going on with her school, her community, and the world around her.
Kern said he didn’t know what to think of the pandemic either but was excited when school was moved from in-person to online. It meant shorter periods and sleeping in until the first Zoom call at 9:30 a.m.
It became too hard for Holand as she struggled to make sure she had the correct Zoom link, Google classroom, assignments, forms, etc. “It seemed easier when I first started, but it got so much harder for me.”
However, the first year of the pandemic flew by and when the second year of online classes came around, Kern said it “wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”
“I had mixed emotions. It was different. It was really different,” he added.
It wasn’t just their schooling situation that changed, it was everything that flashed before their eyes as mandatory isolation blanketed the nation.
“During the summer we couldn’t hang out with our friends. We couldn’t go to camp. We didn’t do anything and it was really, really hard because we didn’t get to socialize with our friends,” said Kern.
Kern stated he found ways to still interact with his friends from video games to Facetime, but he said it wasn’t the same.
As Holand and Kern’s plates began to fill with remote learning, quarantine, isolation, and uncertainty, it became too much.
“You’d wake up every morning wondering if it would get better or if it would get worse and sadly, for the first year it got worse,” said Kern.
Holand also mentioned that because there was a lack of information on the virus, she questioned if her friends and family were to contract covid if they would be okay.
South Texas Health System Licensed Professional Counselor, Heidi Balleza Ruiz said these students aren’t alone in their emotions.
Over the course of the pandemic, she has seen a spike in similar emotions with young children resulting in the request for mental health care support. “I’m school-based, so I’m on campus, but many times the clients that are referred to me, it’s through the hospital.”
According to the CDC, suicide and intentional self-harm is a leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.
STHS can currently assist up to 21 young children in their behavioral unit. Ruiz said the hospital is at high capacity.
Before even seeking professional help though, Ruiz said the support this generation needs starts at home with effective communication and honesty.
For Kern and Holand’s mother, Annie Holand Miller, she grabbed that idea by the horns.
“We worked hard as a family, to be honest with each other, to say, ‘You know, we didn’t know all the answers either,’ to understand it was scary for us as adults as well,” said Annie.
Annie also credits McAllen ISD for the “incredible teacher and faculty” who worked tirelessly to ensure each student was still successful.
McAllen ISD has also been technologically advanced for the past decade, according to Annie. Students were given laptops, iPads, iPods, etc. which she said really helped her children when everything went online.
Another McAllen ISD mother, Mayra Ramirez agrees and commented that McAllen ISD deserves credit for her child’s academic success over the pandemic. She wasn’t concerned in the slightest bit when everything transitioned to online because of this.
Although Kern and Holand were academically successful they still feel as if the pandemic has changed them in ways they would have never seen coming.
“I think it’s made me worry a little more than back before it happened,” said Holand.
“It’s changed me emotionally because I get to realize now how important going to school is and seeing my friends,” added Kern.
Both students feel as if life is returning to normal, but they both agree it may never go back to what it was prior to covid.
If your child is experiencing mental health struggles, Ruiz suggests exercise, socialization, a healthy diet, and meditation as mechanisms to soothe those concerns.
If you feel your child may need additional support, call the STHS Behavioral Center at 888-977-1400. They’re available 24 hours a day.
Tropical Texas Behavioral Health can be reached at 956-364-6500.
DHR Health Behavioral Hospital can be reached at 956-362-4357. They’re available 24 hours a day.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255.