Back-to-School Mental Health Tips
As the summer draws to a close and kids get ready to go back to school, it’s time for families to check in about mental health. Transitioning from summer to school can be exciting, stressful, scary, a relief or a mix of feelings.
Family support makes a big difference for kids who are experiencing stress, whether it’s the typical stress of getting used to having homework again, a major transition like changing schools or coping with bigger fears concerning COVID-19 or violence.
Kids of any age benefit from consistency and predictability, especially when experiencing transition. Getting ready to start school again is a great opportunity to plan ahead and start routines at home, on your own and with your kids:
- Review the Academic Year calendar and make note of dates like parent-teacher conferences, school closures, and grading periods so you can plan ahead.
- Talk through school day schedules and expectations with your child.
- Set bedtimes and wake-up times to make sure your child gets enough sleep and has time to get ready in the morning without rushing.
- Start practicing routines ahead of time where possible. Make sure your child knows how they’ll get to and from school every day. Practice the trip together if there’s a change from last year.
- Review school safety protocols to plan how you will respond if there’s an emergency.
- Ask your child how they’re feeling about the new school year. Listen to concerns, validate their feelings, and reassure them that difficult or conflicting feelings are normal responses to change. Figure out a plan together and be honest if you don’t have a perfect answer.
- Practice mind and body regulation techniques together. Breathing exercises, rhythmic movement, and sensory engagement activities can help reset our nervous systems when we get overwhelmed or need to redirect our energy.
- Brainstorm with your child about other trusted adults they can ask for help when they need it. Caring connections go beyond the immediate family!
While every child needs mental wellness and sensory regulation support, keep an eye out for signs of more serious mental health challenges. In younger kids, stress or anxiety often manifests as belly aches, headaches or nausea. In teenagers it can appear as intense irritability, moodiness, not eating and picking at fingers or pulling hair.
If your child is showing persistent signs of distress, remember you don’t need to do it all on your own. For professional support, you can reach out to your school counselor, talk to your child’s doctor or contact Wellpoint’s outpatient clinic or another provider that specializes in child and youth mental health.
Most of all, remember that recognizing and managing your own stress and anxiety can be key to noticing and responding to how your child is doing. It’s just as important to take care of yourself, identify and utilize the supports available and give yourself grace when you’re having a hard time.