ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Reading has become a way of helping kids at Parc's Discovery Learning Center tap into their feelings.
Counselor Amanda Perkins from the Children's Home Society of Florida also uses sensory toys to help them understand what may be going on inside their heads and hearts.
"Overall, we're trying to break the stigma against therapy. ‘Zero to Five’ is a new study that only came out in the early 2000s. We're learning that stress will take over a child for a lifetime," she explained.
Christina McIntosh, director of the Parc’s Discovery Learning Center said it gives the children a new way to understand their feelings.
"It helps to give them what they need to control their feelings and react appropriately," she said.
Caprice Childs, a teacher, said there are sometimes students who have had trauma in their lives.
"Sometimes, we have children that come in that have had a traumatic background and sometimes it's hard for them to self soothe or speak up or just learn how to control their anger," she said.
Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, said anxiety manifests itself differently among children compared to adults.
"So, you'll see kids that may seem hyperactive, that may seem unable to focus or attend," she explained. "You might think that is a behavioral choice often that is a behavior of anxiety or underlying depression that a child is struggling with, so I think it's going to be really important for our teachers and our parents to take that into account."
In this pandemic, counselors have noticed something alarming when it comes to teens.
"We've seen an increase in the number of teenagers calling the Suicide Prevention line, so suicide calls for us have gone up," said Celi Van Dyke of the Corbett Trauma Center. "I think isolation and uncertainty have definitely overcome some of our kids especially our teenagers and they're also dealing with the normal teenager things such as hormones and wanting to be accepted so these things have just gotten exasperated."
Parents need to pay attention when their kids just don't seem like themselves, experts said.
"Any major change in their eating habits, their sleeping habits, their behaviors, their moods parents are going to notice and pick up on that or somebody that spends a lot of time with them," said Van Dyke.
Experts also suggest starting discussions with them about how they're feeling.
"I think a good opener is, ‘This is a really difficult time that we're going through and I wonder how it's affecting you and what you think about all of these changes in your life.’ Van Dyke suggested. "With younger kiddos, you can just talk to them about things that are worrying them... things that might be making them sad or things that they have questions about."
Another piece of advice: Be mindful to be an example of healthy behaviors.
"If we can model the support and good caretaking of ourselves then our kids are probably going to be resilient and bounce back from it," said Van Dyke.
Anyone in need of help can call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay's 211 call center at any time. For COVID-19 emotional support, you can call 1-844-MyFLHLP.
For more information about the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, head over to their website.