Teacher and pupils
Don Laird

Back to School: A Mental-Health Check List

It’s that time of the year again. When a simple three-word phrase evokes dread for most school-age kids and relief for most parents: “Back to School.” Yet, ask any parent, child or teacher, heading back to the classroom is not without its challenges. It can be an exceptionally difficult time of transition for children who suffer from a mental health or learning issue.

Anxietyespecially unrealistic self-expectations and generalized fear of the world at largeis growing among school-aged children and adolescents these days. Potential root causes for this are both broad and complex, and worthy of a separate, stand-alone article. So returning to school can be an enormously challenging task for any child. Let alone one who struggles with anxiety.

Let’s look at it through a practical lens. Children are away from home and routine, and the rules have changed. The school environment requires certain demands that a typical summer setting does not. Summer rarely needs a child to sit still, stay organized, remain focused and on task and adapt to an extremely structured schedule.

Here are five things you should keep in mind before the first homeroom bell rings:

  1. Anxious Parents, Anxious Kids.

Modeling confidence and calm behaviors are central to most parenting situations, particularly when preparing a child ready for school. By fostering structure and daily routine in family life (bedtime, homework, etc), parents will find this transition period to be much smoother. Giving your kids too many choices about routine can backfire and ultimately put them in the seat of control. Remember, you are the parent.

Anxiety issues and traits can run in families. Children with anxious parents run a greater risk of experiencing anxiety themselves. It is still debatable (just read all the conflicting studies when you are having trouble sleeping) as to whether it is genetics, environment, both or something else, but there is no smoking gun when it comes to the root sources for anxiety.  Yet, it is quite observable that children – and most adults – can be like energy sponges, absorbing energy and assimilating behaviors. Remember, a child is usually no calmer than his or her least-relaxed parent. Anxiety can impact someone’s ability to focus, stay on task and is generally categorized by a state of unrealistic and persistent worry.

Sometimes it can be difficult to vet between what is age-appropriate behaviors and anxiety, but if you have concerns you should first discuss these with your child’s teacher and then a mental health professional should the behaviors continue to escalate.

  1. Teachers Can Be Your Best Ally.

Teachers get to know how a child behaves without family being present. Thus, parents can gain information about learning difficulties and peer problems and friendships. Teachers are your closest allies when it comes to your child’s success in school, and you should talk to them regularly. You will learn more about how your child is navigating his or her world, both academically and socially, by talking with the teacher.

  1. Routines Are Crucial.

Above all, be positive and encouraging. Examples of some good routines might include creating an uncluttered work space in the home; organizing a backpack, reviewing assignments; and discussing homework. You can observe your child’s strengths and weaknesses this way while also establishing and fostering good study habits. Also, be sure that your child is staying hydrated with lots of water and has the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age group.

  1. Don’t Worry.

Kids grow, learn and develop at different rates. A delay in one area of development doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a disorder. There needs to be significant evidence and some testing to reach any firm conclusion. However, if you suspect there might be a problem with your child’s development, talk to her teacher and consult with a mental health professional.

  1. Leave Them Alone.

This may sound counterproductive or even counter intuitive, but a child needs downtime. A schedule that is bursting at the seams, with little or no room for relaxation is also ripe for an anxious or depressed child. Give them time. Life is short, sometimes hard. Don’t unpack your stuff on that person who happens to be your child. Give them breathing room, and let them find out that the world can be a secure and inviting place without regimented schedules.

If you would like to continue the conversation or discuss more techniques to overcoming anxiety, contact me to schedule an appointment or free phone consultation today.

In Good Health,
Don