Dr. Karla Garjaka is a holistic educational and nutritional psychologist who has been working in the educational field for almost 30 years. Education has been her passion since she was a child and since then she has worked in various fields such as: teacher, administrator, professor, researcher, consultant and most recently as the owner of the only holistic pre-school in Oahu.

“My goal is to bring a very personalized experience to my clients, my students and to the schools I work with. The education field is a very complex one and now more than ever it needs to have a more holistic view to solve existing problems.”

A study conducted by   HRSA – health resources and service administration, found out that between 2016 and 2020 the number of children ages 3-17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29% and those with depression by 27%. And this was prior to COVID. 

“All the preliminary studies I’ve read after COVID point to those figures getting even more concerning.  

For instance, a study conducted by the Mckinsey Company during the year 2020-21 with almost 17 thousand parents across the United States roughly 80 percent of the parents had some level of concern about their child’s mental health or social and emotional health and development since the pandemic began.  

It is important to understand that it not only about academics, it is not only about social skills, it is not only about mental health. It must be about all of them at the same time, and that is what I am proposing when I say that we need to take a more holistic approach. Succeeding in this will require that we work with our keiki AND their parents, AND their educators and psychologists and psychiatrists.”

So the big question is how can parents and educators support the mental health of our keiki?

“My first advice is for all the parents and educators out there: Take care of your own heath. Get help if YOU are facing any type of mental health challenges… doing so will also help your children and students. Also talk about the fact you were struggling and had to ask for help with your keiki – you can role model for them what you want them to do. 

Second. Give your child a safe space to share their feelings and actively listen to what they have to say. Don’t try to solve the problem for them; don’t tell them you’ve been through that; don’t even tell them that everything is going to be alright. Instead, acknowledge their feelings. Once you are done listening, validate that you have understood them. You can say something like “It feels like you are feeling <blank>, did I get that right?”. One of my favorite acronyms is for the word WAIT (WHY AM I TALKING) 

Third. Choose at least a day of the week to spend a time with your child and let them choose what they want to do. If you add this to your weekly routine, you will have the opportunity to not only connect with your child but also create a very special bonding with him/her”

And finally Dr. Karla has some tips for parents whose kids are struggling academically.

“Many studies have outlined the correlation between mindset and academic performance. It is well known that students with high levels of self-motivation, persistence and independence have thrived. Therefore, my top 3 tips are:

First. Use the 6:1 ratio: In a recent groundbreaking study conducted by Dr. Marcial Losada, it was found that you need to make 6 positive comments for every negative comment you make to your child. 6 to 1! This is critical to help the child regain their self-esteem. 

Second. Create a daily schedule. Studies after studies have shown that routine support healthy social emotional development in children and teens. More specifically children with regular routines at home tend to have better mental health. Children also benefit from relationships and environments that are predictable to them  

Third. And the least favorite one for almost everyone: restrict the amount of screen time. 

Recently, studies have shown that setting limits on screen time can have a positive effect on kids’ physical, social, behavioral and academic performance. Spending too much time on screens has been linked to inadequate sleep, poor grades and greater risk of obesity. There are psychological tolls, too, especially among older children. One study showed that teens who are on their screen for seven or more hours per day are more than twice as likely to have depression or another mental health issue than those who use screens for an hour or less per day.