As summer vacation comes to an end and a new school year approaches, the thought of returning to school can bring a mix of emotions for kids, teens, parents and custodial adults. Our emotions will range from excitement and anticipation to stress and anxiety. In order to help kick off the school year, here are some tips on how to best to prepare your children and teens for a healthy and successful school year from a mental health perspective.
1. Normalize Anxiety: It's crucial to acknowledge that feeling anxious about the upcoming school year is completely normal. Have open conversations with your child about any concerns they might have. Allow them to express their feelings and validate their emotions. Discuss with them the mental health resources available on their campus though their school counselor and plan for regular down time in their schedules so they can decompress.
2. Establish a Routine: Summer often comes with a more relaxed schedule, so gradually adjusting bedtimes and wake up times can help make the transition to a school routine smoother. Consistency in routine also provides a sense of security and can help mitigate anxiety.
3. Promote Healthy Habits: Nutrition, physical activity, and adequate sleep are important for mental well-being. Sleep especially is so important for both kids and teens, taking phones, tablets and computers out of their rooms at an agreed upon time can help them disconnect and get the sleep they need. Discuss scheduling their homework time and how important it is to choose to step back from activities when they feel over committed and exhausted. Setting a good example will go a long way towards encouraging your children to implement these habits naturally and without an argument.
4. Encourage Socialization: Allow your child to reconnect with their peers before school starts. This can alleviate some of the social anxiety associated with going back to school and remind them of the positive aspects of school life. If your child is going to a new school reconnecting with friends might not be an option, so look into seeing if there is a new student camp before school starts or clubs after school where they can easily meet new friends.
5. Teach Stress Management Techniques: Equip your child with tools to manage stress, such as deep breathing and mindfulness exercises, yoga and journaling. Teaching them that it's okay to take breaks when things get overwhelming can be incredibly beneficial as well.
6. Set Realistic Expectations: Pressure to perform academically can be a significant source of stress. It's crucial to set achievable goals and reassure your child that it's okay to make mistakes and that learning is a journey, not a race. If school is a constant struggle, make an appointment to sit down with their teacher and see if after school tutoring is an option, or look into private after school tutoring programs. Be an advocate for your child and never belittle their efforts.
7. Foster a Positive Mindset: Encourage your child to see the new school year as an opportunity for growth and learning. This can involve focusing on the subjects they enjoy, looking forward to extracurricular activities, or setting personal academic goals.
8. Offer Reassurance: Remind your child that it's okay to ask for help when they need it, whether it's about schoolwork, friendships, or dealing with feelings. Reinforce that you're there to support them no matter what.
9. Consult a Professional If Needed: If you notice signs of persistent stress or anxiety, such as changes in eating or sleeping habits, irritability, or lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy, discuss with them how speaking to a therapist or counselor can be helpful. For those 19 and up, you can get 10% off your first month at BetterHelp, www.betterhelp.com/themisunderstood
10. Celebrate the Start of School: Make going back to school exciting. Plan a special family outing, or allow your child to pick out new school supplies. By making it an event to look forward to you can help ease any lingering apprehension.
Remember, it's normal for kids and teens to take some time to adjust to the new school year. Each child is unique and will handle the back to school transition in their own way. Keep communication lines open, provide consistent support, and remember, professional help is always available if needed. With preparation and understanding, we can make the return to school a positive experience for our children.
All the best,
Food for thought:
What was one thing you loved about school?
What was one thing you hated?
If you could go back and give yourself advice about school, what would it be?