Back to School Tips for Parents
School and mental health are closely intertwined, yet back-to-school tips for parents and teachers often fail to address the ways that you should monitor and manage mental health conditions that develop in children and teens. Acknowledging these in students is instrumental in providing youth with the support they need to have a healthy and productive school year.
Below, we’ll share some advice for navigating the most immediate school stressors, with resources that parents, teachers, and students can use to handle mental health problems in school.
Mental Health in Children and Teens: School-Related Stressors
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), most mental health conditions start in adolescence. Half of those who experience mental health struggles exhibit the first signs by the age of 14, and 75% by the time they are 24, adds NAMI. Of course, school-related issues may not solely cause a mental health condition (biology and other factors are almost always at play). Still, the high-stress school environment can exacerbate illnesses or bring anxieties to the forefront. Here are a few back-to-school-related stressors that may manifest physically in your child:
- Changes in routine
- Social stress and anxiety
- School workload
- Organizational requirements
- Time management
- New subject matters
It’s important to keep an eye out for common signs of stress in your child so that you can check in if they seem to be struggling. This includes things like irritability, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, difficulties concentrating, and general changes in behavior. While these signs don’t necessarily mean that something is seriously wrong, they’re all good reasons to open up a conversation and ensure that your child is doing okay.
How to Prepare Your Child for School
Properly addressing school-related mental health conditions starts before the first bell ever rings. Below we’ll outline tips and recommendations for preparing your children for the new school year and the best ways to address back-to-school anxiety.
Set a Routine
A predictable school routine for students can make all the difference in their ability to transition into the new year smoothly. Start implementing a routine at least two weeks prior to the first day, including the basics of what will be their general morning, afternoon, and evening routine during school. Write out the routine on a piece of paper or shared digital calendar that your child can see, so they always know what is expected of them and when.
Have Open Discussions
Prepare your child for school by talking openly and often about it, including what they’re most excited about, and anticipate their biggest challenges. Make sure to listen. Offer advice when appropriate, but also be there as a sounding board where your child knows they can go if they need to vent.
Establish Communication with Friends Before School Starts
For many kids, summer means two to three months away from their school friends and acquaintances, which can lead to some social anxiety before getting back into the swing of things. If your child is worried about reconnecting with their friends, set up a play date before school starts so they can foster relationships outside of the classroom setting. :
Remind Them They Are Not Alone
Let your child know that it’s totally normal to feel nervous ahead of a new school year and that it’s something that their fellow kids – and even their teachers – are experiencing, too. This lets them know that they aren’t alone in their feelings and that feeling worried doesn’t mean that anything is wrong.
Nerves on the first day of school are incredibly common, and not usually a sign of a mental health condition. However, if you notice your child’s nerves are unusually high, you may want to seek professional support earlier rather than later.
Mental Health Resources for Students & Parents
Estimates suggest that only 20% of children with mental and behavioral conditions receive care from a professional mental health care provider, says the CDC. Schools and parents who are assisting children and teens with mental conditions should add the following resources to their collection of strategies for back-to-school mental health:
- AACAP Depression Resource Center
Many more resources can help parents, educators, and students identify and deal with mental health conditions in school. However, if your child is really struggling, it may be best to seek out one-on-one care from a qualified mental health provider. For added support, contact Retreat Behavioral Health and speak to an expert about any questions or concerns regarding your child’s mental health.