As the beach bags get put away and an inventory gets done on the status of backpacks and shoes, parents may have other worries about their children’s readiness to return to school related to their children’s anxiety and mental health. The American Psychological Foundation (apa.org) says that parents play an important role in helping kids feel ready for the transition back to school by encouraging them to share and express their feelings about returning to school. Tips include restarting the family’s school-year routine a few weeks before school starts, getting to know new neighborhood children if you have moved, talking to your children, empathizing with their worries or fears, and asking for help to manage and cope.
Children of Different Ages
Managing the anxiety of children of different ages can be challenging. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital recommends different approaches for each child. For early elementary school-aged children, the message is to keep it brief and simple while providing reassurance that adults will keep them safe and following routine behaviors (like hand washing) to keep them healthy. For upper elementary and middle school-aged children, the focus is usually on helping them distinguish reality from rumor/fantasy and reminding them how important it is to take care of one another. For upper middle and high school-aged students, discussions can be more in-depth, helping them with honest, factual information to engage them in shared decision-making. Parents should practice good listening and encourage children to verbalize their thoughts.
Bad behavior can still happen, and professionals agree on one thing – ignore attention-getting tantrums from children about going back to school. The website Mental Health First Aid (mentalhealthfirstaid.org) encourages parents to stay calm and avoid getting angry or upset when children have tantrums. Instead, parents are encouraged to praise children when they see calmer behavior. While your child needs to know you’re there to listen and help problem-solve, timing can be everything. Find a time to talk when your child is relatively calm – not when they are upset or getting ready for school.
Talking about the transition back to school can help children problem-solve solutions. Conversation starters could include, asking them ways you can help make it easier for them, or asking them about their specific worries. Giving children choices about picking out their clothes or selecting a favorite meal during the first week of school can empower them and help them feel more in control during this transition.
Research shows that 22 percent of Americans will have a diagnosable mental illness at some point before they are 18 years old. This means that in a class of 25 students, at least five will experience a mental health challenge. If not addressed, mental health challenges can have an impact long into a person’s adulthood. Mental Health America recommends, especially for teens, that taking care of basic needs can make all the difference. This includes eating healthy snacks, staying hydrated, resting if you need to, making time for hobbies, practicing relaxation, volunteering for others, and asking for help when you need it.
In For All Seasons’ two most recent podcasts, “Bring on the Mess,” clinicians explore how to support children as they transition back to a new school year, specifically looking at the village or community that parents/caregivers rely upon to navigate change and create safe environments for kids to learn and grow, as well as information about understanding Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Visit https://www.buzzsprout.com/1863116/11175937-bring-on-the-mess-volume-18-it-takes-a-village and https://www.buzzsprout.com/1863116/11202759-bring-on-the-mess-volume-17-adhd.
For additional information on managing stress and anxiety, visit mentalhealthfirstaid.org or call For All Seasons at 410-822-1018 if you would like more information on services.
For All Seasons is your community behavioral health and rape crisis center offering therapy, psychiatry, advocacy, and education to individuals and families, regardless of one’s ability to pay. For further information, visit www.forallseasonsinc.org.