Heading into the back-to-school season can be an exciting — and stressful — time for families. Children are winding down from their summer vacation, and caregivers are amping up and preparing for the new school year. For many, this time of transition can bring on extra worry, frustration and anxiety. But with the right strategies, caregivers can help reduce back-to-school jitters and set their children up for a successful year ahead.
Whether your child is starting a new school or returning to familiar hallways, there are ways to navigate the back-to-school season calmly and confidently. With the new school year upon us, let’s explore expert mental health tips to help children (and caregivers!) navigate the highs and lows of returning to school.
Navigating the Back-to-School Season: Mental Health Tips to Set Children Up for Success
For many children and teens, the thought of returning to school is initially exciting! But the anticipation can give way to anxiety once the reality of beginning a new school year sets in. Worry and overwhelm can cause extra anxiety to begin surfacing for both children and caregivers. During the back-to-school transition, children need their caregivers to help support their mental health. Here are some tips to help you and your child make a smooth transition from summer to the start of a new school year:
Start with a Positive Mindset
Frame the back-to-school season as an exciting opportunity for growth and new experiences. Encourage your child to focus on the positive aspects of school, such as seeing friends, learning new things and participating in extracurricular activities. You can also foster a positive mindset with open communication. Encourage them to express their feelings and concerns about school, homework or any challenges they may be facing. Express empathy and understanding so they feel heard and supported.
Establish a Routine and Start Early
Children and teens (and, let’s face it, adults too!) thrive on consistency and structure. Establish a daily routine with designated times for homework, meals, physical activity and relaxation. This will provide a sense of stability and predictability. You can also begin preparing for the new school year a few weeks in advance. Especially if they’ve been staying up later and sleeping in later over the summer months, start gradually adjusting your child’s sleep schedule to align with their school routine. This will help them feel well-rested and ready for the day.
Foster a Supportive Home Environment
Create a supportive atmosphere at home where your child feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns about school. Encourage open communication and actively listen to their worries or fears. Children need assurance that it’s normal to feel nervous — and that you are there to support them every step of the way.
Plan a School Visit and Meet the Teacher
If possible, visit the school with your child before the first day. Familiarize them with the layout, show them their classroom, and if possible, introduce them to their teacher. This will help alleviate extra anxieties about the unknown, especially for those younger children just getting started with school or children getting ready to begin at a new school.
Organize and Prepare
Disorganization can create feelings of overwhelm, stress and anxiety. To combat this, help your child get organized by creating a designated study area, organizing school supplies and setting up a system for tracking assignments and deadlines. This can alleviate any last-minute stress and ensure a smooth start to the school year.
Develop Stress Management Skills
Help your child develop healthy ways to manage stress. We recommend creating a Mental Health Toolkit to help children and adults learn and understand coping skills. You can include deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, guided imagery or other activities to help them during times of stress. Using techniques like this can help them (and you) relax and reduce anxiety.
Encourage Social Connections
Social interactions are essential for children’s mental health and development. Through this current epidemic of loneliness, we need to encourage children to make friends, join clubs or extracurricular activities that align with their interests and participate in social events. Making these connections can provide support and a sense of belonging that carries on through their lifetime.
Research shows that excessive screen time can negatively impact a child’s mental health, including an increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, social anxiety and other complications. As tempting as it is to just hit “play” after a busy day, it’s valuable to set limits on recreational screen time. Encourage alternative activities like reading, playing outside or engaging in creative hobbies. Doing this will help to remove additional mental health complications.
Watch for Signs of Distress
This is a big one! Keep an eye out for any signs of distress or changes in behavior. If you notice your child becoming withdrawn, irritable or experiencing sleeping/eating disturbances, reach out to their teacher, counselor or a mental health professional, like those at KVC, for additional support. Acting early can help avoid a crisis later on in the school year. Many therapies and other mental health treatments are available to help your child thrive.
Prioritizing your child’s mental health is a sure way to ensure they start the year off on the right foot, but don’t forget that taking care of yourself is just as important and can impact your ability to help others.
Staying on Top of the Back-to-School Anxiety: Tips to Promote Good Mental Health in Parents & Caregivers
As a caregiver, you want to offer the support and guidance your child needs during the back-to-school transition. In the middle of juggling schedules, managing expectations and ensuring your child’s success, it’s easy to neglect your own mental health and begin to feel your own stress seeping through. Especially during this time, taking care of yourself is essential in supporting your child. We’ve gathered some helpful tips to help you prioritize your mental wellbeing during this busy time:
Set Realistic Expectations
First and foremost, setting realistic goals and expectations for yourself and your child can go miles in helping with stress management. It’s natural to want the best for your child but keep in mind that hiccups and unexpected things happen in life. That’s a normal part of growing up. Try to be understanding and know that progress is more important than perfection.
Practice Self Care
As you encourage your child to take care of themselves, you need to do the same! Make sure you’re prioritizing your own self-care. Set time aside for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, whether it’s exercising, reading, taking a bath or spending time with friends. Caring for your needs will help you recharge and be more present for your child.
Seek Out Support
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help when needed. Talk to someone you trust — a friend, family member, therapist or get help from other professional resources, like those at KVC — about any stress or anxiety you’re experiencing. Sharing your feelings and concerns can uncover a fresh perspective and find much-needed support.
Connect with Other Caregivers
Don’t underestimate the power of community! Building a support network of other caregivers going through similar experiences can be invaluable. Join parent-teacher associations, attend school events or connect with others in your community through neighborhood groups or places of worship. Sharing experiences and advice can provide a sense of camaraderie and understanding.
Practice Self Compassion
Any time there is added stress, it’s extra important to be kind and understanding towards yourself. Caregiving can be challenging, and it’s normal to make mistakes or feel overwhelmed. Treat yourself with the same compassion and understanding you would offer to a friend. Embrace compassion as a necessary aspect of your overall wellbeing.
Remember, you are the best role model for your children. They look to you for guidance and support, which means taking care of your mental health during the back-to-school season is crucial for both you and your child. By being patient, flexible and open to adjusting strategies as needed, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges that arise, creating a positive and supportive environment for your family.
From all of us at KVC, here’s to a successful and fulfilling school year for you and your child!
Part of the KVC team during our 2023 Back-to-School Supply Drive.