How to Prepare Kids for School While Protecting Their Mental Health
As many as 1 in 5 adults in the United States have experienced mental illness but the statistics regarding mental health in children is a little less cut and dry. Anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and ADHD are among the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children, but some disorders are more difficult to diagnose than others.
Mental health conditions can change the way a child learns, behaves, and handles their emotions. In other words, they can have a drastic impact not only on the child’s mental and emotional development, but on their quality of life. Returning to school, whether after a summer break or after an extended period of remote learning, can be stressful.
The following tips can help parents, teachers, and administrators ease the transition back into the classroom while also protecting the mental health of young students.
1. Know that anxiety is completely normal.
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time and there’s nothing wrong with that. As many as 4.4 million children have diagnosed anxiety and there may be millions more who remain undiagnosed. It’s important to acknowledge your child’s feelings and to accept them – help your child understand that their feelings are completely normal. Remind your children that you’re always available to help if they’re going through a struggle, but don’t force them to open up if they’re not ready.
2. Create a safe space for open communication.
Give children an opportunity to express their fears and anxiety without judgment. It’s also important not to immediately jump into solution mode – try to listen more and talk less. Talk to your children about what they’re struggling with and start a conversation about what you can do together to work through them. If your child is having trouble keeping up in school, online tutoring could help. If behavioral issues or severe anxiety are a problem, talk to your pediatrician about treatment options.
3. Give children plenty of time to adjust.
Everyone progresses at their own pace and your child may deal with stress in a different way than you do. Be patient and supportive in whatever ways you can, but make sure your children know it’s okay to take things slow. Stay in communication with your child’s teachers to keep an eye on their progress and work together to develop a new routine to help your child move through the transition back into school.
4. Provide access to support services.
While it’s important to let your children progress at their own pace, that doesn’t mean you can’t give them a helping hand. Talk to your child’s school about support services that may be available or find your child some outside help. Peer tutoring is a great option for students struggling with their academics. This concept pairs students with tutors of similar age so learners receive help from someone who understands what they’re experiencing. Not only can peer tutoring help improve your child’s academic performance, but it provides social support as well. Spending time with a peer they can relate to could be incredibly beneficial for your child’s mental health.
5. Be ready to make adjustments.
It’s important to enter a new school year with a plan in place, but you shouldn’t expect everything to go according to plan. Even the best-laid plans have a way of unraveling, so you’ll be doing yourself and your children a favor if you learn to expect the unexpected. This isn’t to say you should expect the worst, but it never hurts to have an attitude of flexibility. When problems arise, you’ll be able to handle them calmly. More importantly, however, you’ll be in a better headspace to communicate with your child about a change in plans and ease their anxiety as they process things and adjust.
6. Address fears and concerns honestly.
There’s a lot to be anxious about right now and it’s important that your children understand it’s okay to have feelings. When your child expresses worry or fear about something, address it honestly. Start by affirming your child, letting them know that their feelings are valid, then talk through the fear together. Answer questions as directly as possible in an age-appropriate way. If you don’t know the answer, find it and involve your child in the process so they learn how to cope with fear and anxiety themselves.
7. Make self-care a priority for everyone.
It’s important for children to have a regular routine, especially when it comes to study time, but be sure to make time for play. Mental health is just one aspect of total health, and it needs to be nurtured. Self-care is about doing the things that support mental, physical, and emotional wellness. For children, it means providing plenty of play time and regular exercise to relieve stress and provide a mental break from school and its associated anxiety. Encourage your children to partake in activities they personally enjoy, whether it’s reading, making crafts, or spending time outside. Be honest with your children about the stress you’re experiencing as well and set a good example of self-care in your own life.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
We can all use a little help from time to time and there’s no shame in asking for it. While it may be difficult to reach out, you’ll find once you do that you’re not alone in your struggle. Millions of parents are working hard to ease their children through the same transition you are. Make time to check in with yourself and take care of your own health so you can better care for your children. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns, consider online therapy. It can be conducted in the privacy and comfort of your own home, and it just may help you learn to cope with the stress.
The country is still recovering from the effects of a year-long lockdown and new challenges present themselves every day. Regardless of current circumstances, however, returning to school can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing time for children. The tops above will help you prioritize your child’s mental health as you help them through the transition.
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