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Tips to Avoid the “Back-to-School Blues”
All of the school supplies have been bought and their backpacks are bursting at the seams! While the summer brings much needed relaxation, the hustle and bustle of the school year is never far away.
Starting a new school year can be an exciting time in your child or teen’s life, but sometimes the idea of it can be overwhelming. A new school year often means new teachers, new rules, new friends, and new responsibilities. With all of these changes and expectations, it’s no surprise that nearly 2% of elementary-school-age children, and 1 in 5 adolescents ages 13-18 suffer from anxiety or depression. Being able to manage stress levels and provide them with healthy coping skills is vital to maintaining your child’s mental health and overall wellness.
Here are some ways to make the adjustment back to school less stressful:
If your child is attending a new school, schedule a tour prior to their first day. Help lower their anxiety about the first day by giving them the opportunity to become familiar with the school. This will give them the chance to learn where their classrooms are without racing the school bell. Don’t forget to have your child practice opening their lockers.
Create a routine. The morning can often be a hectic time of day for any family! To help lower the stress and anxiety of the morning, involve your child in creating a morning schedule. Make sure your schedule allows plenty of time for unexpected occurrences such as missing sneakers or hitting the “snooze” button one too many times.
Reinforce good sleeping habits. It is suggested that adolescence get between 8.5 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Not getting adequate sleep can cause a variety of problems including poor attention in the classroom, low grades, lack of energy, moodiness, and depression.
Make healthy meals and encourage healthy snacking. Just like sleep, food plays a vital role in a child’s energy level and ability to concentrate. Providing them with foods rich in protein and nutrients will help maintain their physical and mental health.
Promote regular exercise and activities. Physical activity has been proven to help improve mood and decrease anxiety and depression. Joining recreational sports teams is also a great way for your child to socialize, make new friends, and stay fit!
Be available and stay connected. Even though your child or teen is growing up and becoming increasingly independent, they still need you. Remember to take time out of your day to talk to them and know what’s going on in their lives. Listen to their feelings or concerns and give them plenty of feedback. Dinner time and the drive home from school are often prime opportunities to connect with them.
Practice positive coping techniques. While regular exercise is crucial, be sure to teach your children different ways to process unpleasant feelings and thoughts. Some of the ways to reduce immediate stress include deep breathing, relaxation, aroma therapy, and imagery. Another great method is journaling. This allows them to express their emotions and the ability to reflect on their thoughts.
I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Burling, a Counselor at Ralston High School. Ralston High School believes in being proactive in their efforts and carefully reviews all new student files. During these reviews the counselors look for red flags in the students’ school history. While the counselors rely heavily on their “front line,” this being the staff and teachers, “We also listen to other students; they really are the key to early intervention,” says Burling.
Signs of depression can include loss of interest in usual hobbies, change in appetite, difficulty sleeping or over sleeping, physical signs of agitation, feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of death and suicide. Signs of anxiety disorders can include excessive worrying, problems sleeping, feelings of panic or fear, nausea, dizziness, and inability to be still.
“We ask our parents to look for these signs and contact us or their medical provider,” says Burling. “We then try to connect and work together. We also try to get parents and students to engage in communication, talk about issues, not just these issues, but all things associated in the day to day lives of their children.”
I asked him what advice he would give a teen that is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, and he explained that, “Generally we do not give advice; we try to give direction and redirection to materials and resources so they can get a better picture of the situation. We also listen to them and let them know that they are not the first or last student that we are going to see. Basically we let them know they are not alone and that they do not need to feel this way. There are answers and we just need to explore to find them.”
About Jill Sauser, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill has a B.S. in Journalism (PR/Advertising) and a Minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. During her time at UNO, she completed a two year PR practicum program where she worked with numerous nonprofit clients including the MS Society, The Archdiocese of Omaha, and YWCA. Jill joined The Kim Foundation as Project Coordinator in April 2014.