Back-to-school time can be an exciting time for students and their families, but it can also be stressful and exhausting. Each transition comes with new information to learn, new names and faces to get to know, and new routines. The influx of change can lead to anxiety, fear and even depression, so it’s important to be aware of your child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs.
In addition, families and children are still coping with ongoing pandemic-related stress, scary news headlines, and a world that feels unpredictable and increasingly hostile. It is important to recognize that even in the most resilient homes, children have been impacted, and overwhelming stress has a direct impact on school performance. Acknowledging the stressors we have all endured is only the first step in finding solutions that work.
notMYkid is an Arizona-based nonprofit that is dedicated to supporting youth mental health and well-being and has the following tips for starting the 2022-2023 school year off strong.
Set aside time to talk before they start classes. Set aside time to have a conversation in which you can devote full attention to your child. It can be helpful to have this conversation in a setting that your child is comfortable in and will decrease pressure, such as going for a drive, over a meal of their choice, or during an activity they enjoy. Ask your child how they’re feeling about the return to school. Avoid judgment in this conversation and let them know that there isn’t any “right” or “wrong” way to feel about the situation. Help them to identify what they’re feeling rather than assigning a value to those feelings and take time to validate any feelings they share with you. Let them know they are welcome to come talk with you again if they need advice, are struggling with something, or just need someone to listen. You may be surprised at how much they open up, but even if they don’t, your effort sends a strong message of support and increases the likelihood they will turn to you when it matters.
Create routine and structure. Much of life is outside of our control, and that lack of control can increase stress. Creating routine and structure can increase predictability and a sense of safety for your child. Work on finding a consistent place and time to do homework, setting aside time for their self-care routine such as time outside, hobbies, and time connecting with friends. Involve your child in planning and give options and choices to help increase their sense of safety and control.
Keep schedules balanced. It’s natural and even admirable for parents to want the best of everything for their children. Encouraging them to be engaged in classes that challenge them, or to be involved in extracurricular activities can help teach them important social skills and life skills that increase resiliency and prepare them for success in adulthood. It is also important to notice signs when children are becoming overwhelmed or burned out, such as increased irritability, boredom, signs of fatigue and decreased performance. Kids need the time and space to be kids. They also need adequate time for rest and rejuvenation. Kids are developing their ability to manage stress and overwhelming them can impact their ability to adjust and grow, can increase stress, and ultimately will negatively impact performance. Maintaining balance will ultimately lead to better progress overall.
Know the signs of common mental health conditions. It can be difficult to distinguish between normal ups and downs in children and teens, and when it’s time to seek help. Some signs and symptoms to be aware of are changes in sleeping or eating habits, mood swings, increased headaches and/or stomachaches, nausea, lack of energy, loss of interest in activities, difficulty concentrating and excessive isolation. Most importantly, keep an eye out for anything that you consider unusual for your child, especially if it continues over multiple days. If you notice changes, be sure to respond promptly by beginning a conversation. Let them know what you’ve seen and make it clear that you’re here to help.
Find ways to connect with your children. More than ever, it can feel like the lives and choices of our children are out of our control. Children and teens are exposed to more and more information, ideas, and dangers. It can feel like they are being raised by TikTok and YouTube and that sending them to school or other activities equals sending them out into an unsafe world. It is important to understand that you remain the most critical influence in your child’s life. Life is busy but investing in a solid connection with your child is the most important step you can take in helping your child to learn to manage challenging emotions, make positive choices, and develop resiliency in a world that is too big for them to manage on their own.
Connect with notMYkid for help. notMYkid is a nonprofit organization that promotes youth mental health and inspires healthy connection and well-being. We achieve this by offering a full continuum of the highest quality, trauma-informed prevention and behavioral health programs for youth and families, schools, and the community, including parent-specific programming that can support you in your role as a parent, and help you to develop a stronger connection with your child. For more information and resources visit www.notMYkid.org.
Dawna Allington, MSW, Director of Peer Programs, notMYkid
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