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There's a growing number of children seeking therapy related to back-to-school anxiety

Mental health counselors say their loads are increasing as more and more kids and teenagers seek therapy for anxiety tied to the returning to school.

SHORELINE, Wash. — Blue and green pom-poms shook, drivers laid on their horns and cheers rang out from a group of parents and students gathering on the sidewalk outside of Shorewood High School Wednesday morning.

It was a warm welcome for students and staff after a long period of isolation and remote learning.

"We want them to feel a connection," said Shorewood Booster President Vicky Jaquish. "We want them to feel that Shorewood love, and we just want to kick off the year in a more positive way."

Many were excited to return and revisit with friends. 

However, mental health counselors said their loads are increasing as more children and teenagers seek therapy for anxiety tied to the return to in-person classes.

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"When you're a teen, your social circle is your whole world, and maybe kids are not sure they're going to have the same friends when they've gone back to school or what has changed," said Laura Richer, a licensed mental health counselor and the owner of Anchor Light Therapy Collective in Seattle.

Richer said younger children are also struggling.

"Younger kids might be experiencing kind of separation anxiety from their parents," said Richer. "They've been with their parents for the last year-and-a-half."

Parents are also dealing with anxiety as they send their children back to school. 

Leslie Kraft is a local kindergarten teacher and parent with a child entering kindergarten this fall. Kraft said hearing about some of the outbreaks at other schools across the country scares her.

"There is definitely that anxiety. What risk are you going to take? I want my kid to go to school. They are lacking socialization from these last two years," explained Kraft. "Even with all these precautions that we're trying to do, can we keep all these kids safe?"

Experts said it is important to normalize the anxiety your kids are feeling and reassure them of the safety measures schools are taking to keep students safe. It's also important to create a space where kids can talk about what they are experiencing.