School activities are in full swing once again. While back-to-school can be an exciting time for students, it can also trigger some nerves, stress and even heightened anxiety. It’s crucial we recognize the potential toll the transition can take on the mental health of kids, regardless of age.
For younger children where academic-related stress is not necessarily an issue, being away from the familiarity of home and family can cause unrest. Students further along in their academic career often encounter pressure to perform in the classroom that coincides with various life changes that come with adolescence. Preparing to juggle an active social life, new class schedule and extracurriculars all while planning for the future can overwhelm individuals as they embark on a new school year.
While experiencing self-doubt and navigating school-life balance can be tough, it’s important parents and guardians understand how to not only help their children during times of transition, but also remain mindful of mental health and wellness along the way.
KidsTLC Director of Risk Management and Compliance, Dan Lash, is a licensed therapist who has done extensive work with children and young adults throughout his professional career. We spoke with Lash to gain insight and gather five concrete tips to help parents effectively support their kids during the busy back-to-school shuffle.
- Be intentional: Make an effort to sincerely check in with your kids. Asking how they are doing with the intention of getting more than a one-word answer, especially with teenagers, can make a real impact when done consistently. Even if they’re not willing to fully open up every time, asking sends a powerful message that you care and are willing to actively listen. This reinforces a trusting relationship. Keep in mind that the opportunity to check-in doesn’t have to be a picture-perfect moment around the dinner table. Sometimes it’s a quick chat during the ride to soccer practice or a touch base before bed. Just take the opportunities that are available and be intentional with your conversations.
- Establish a routine: Summer is a time for kids to kick back and relax, and often times there isn’t much structure to the day. This can be refreshing during summer break, but a steady routine is highly beneficial during the school year. When transitioning back into school, kids often feel overwhelmed, so establishing a routine helps to create structure. It’s proven that kids thrive off of routine because it gives them comfort and sense of control. Even something as simple as having afterschool activities twice a week and sticking to the same bedtime every night helps children gain a sense of normalcy and control, which benefits both their mental and physical health.
- Develop coping skills: Stress is an unavoidable part of life and can be heightened for kids during the school year. It’s helpful to prepare for when anxiety levels might spike by thinking about what helps kids unplug and relax. Make a list and reference it whenever stress or levels of unrest begin to rise. These coping skills don’t necessarily need to be parent-made either; allow your child to explore ways they can manage stress on their own. This gives them an opportunity to learn what works best for them and encourages them to practice these coping skills on their own.
- Find time for fun: At the end of the day, kids are kids; they deserve to have some fun! If you have some free time after school or on an open weekend, take your child to do something new like explore a park you’ve never been to or try a new ice cream place. Let them play outside often and offer to engage in games with them. Allowing and encouraging kids to be kids is simply beneficial to their overall well-being. When things get stressful, take the initiative to do something adventurous or fun to take off the edge.
- Ask when concerned: If you have a concern your child’s anxiety or unrest is part of a more serious issue, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions about additional support. Mental health should be taken just as seriously physical health. If you have even the slightest concern your child may need professional guidance, you should ask questions and explore your resources. As you notice signs of mental illness or concerning behaviors, compassionately initiate a conversation with your child about their mental health in a safe place. Encourage them to share what they believe will help and directly ask what they need while discussing additional support options. It can be helpful to talk with their teacher and leverage resources available at your child’s school as well. If you’re considering seeking professional care, resources from the National Institute of Mental can help guide parents through the process and outline treatment options. The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) and Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) are also free resources available 24/7.
As we close the chapter on summer, consider how these tips can be applied to you and your child’s daily routine this school year. There are ways to handle the stress and uncertainty the classroom can bring, but it all starts with communication between you and your child. Be open, listen well and ask questions. Check out some additional resources from Mental Health America below: