After a long, often unstructured and lazy summer, August is back-to-school time and kids have to readjust to early mornings, packed schedules, hours of learning, sports and homework. For some students, the return to the classroom can be tough, especially when they are struggling with mental health, behavioral or emotional issues.
Here are some strategies parents can use to help ease their children back into the school year, foster their well-being and support their resilience.
- Advanced prep – If your child struggles with transitions, you will want to prepare them as much as possible in the weeks before school starts. Have them get up earlier for the week before school. Go through their schedule with them. Take practice runs at getting ready and out the door. Depending on the age, you may ask the school to take a tour of their classrooms in advance.
- Stay calm – Parents also find the start of school stressful, but it is critical to model calmness for your child. If we aren’t able to self-regulate, how can we expect our child to? Calmness reduces your child’s “alarm reaction” (fight-flight-freeze) and allows them to feel safe and secure enough to think rationally and use their coping skills.
- Partner with their school – You and your child’s school have the same goal: helping your child so they can feel successful. Communicate with teachers and staff about what your child may be experiencing and how they can be supported in the classroom.
- Help your child get their sleep in order – Children need between eight and 10 hours of sleep every night. Numerous studies link a lack of sleep to emotional and behavioral problems. Start a routine by encouraging your child to go to bed and get up around the same time every day. Have them avoid screen time and caffeine in the evenings, turn off bright lights and clear the clutter from their bedrooms.
- Encourage exercise – Regular exercise is proven to be one of the most effective ways of improving mental health and wellbeing. It’s been linked to reduced stress, higher self-esteem and general happiness in young people.
- Support healthy eating – Kids who eat regular, healthy meals cope better and think more clearly.
- Limit screen time and especially social media – Most kids spend a significant part of their day at school on laptops, computers and other devices. When they come home, they need a break from screens. Encourage your child to spend time interacting and connecting with others, exploring their interests and getting some fresh air or play time, for the sake of their mental health. As children get older, they will likely start using social media. One recent large-scale public health survey of teens in the U.K. found that three hours or more daily on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness. You will want to set clear boundaries and be vigilant.
- Create a schedule with your child – Have them write down what they are obligated to do on a given day, during school and after school and what they want to do in their free time. Research shows that simply by drawing up a plan our brains can put aside some of the stress associated with the individual tasks we have to complete.
- Allow them to take time-outs – Encourage your child to practice breathing or mindfulness exercises, meditate or do yoga. This help calms them and shift unhelpful thought patterns.
- Encourage open communication – Young people, especially adolescents and teens, often bottle up their feelings and self-isolate when they are struggling. But talking can offer immense relief. Be available to your child. Ask questions and listen without judgment. If they can trust you to be open and supportive, they will be more likely to come to you when they need to.
- Get help – If you see your child’s behaviors changing over a month or so – they lose their appetite, no longer enjoy participating in activities, stop hanging out with their friends, etc. – consider having them evaluated by your physician or a mental health professional.