Back to School Tips for Mental Health
It’s time to go back to school and the reactions of kids (and parents) can differ wildly. Some children are excited to see their friends again more regularly and get back into a routine. Others will miss the freedom of summer and aren’t ready to return to the classroom. Still others may have a mental health condition like anxiety or depression or a learning disorder that makes school harder for them. At the Healthy365 Connection Center, it is our goal to support families in their overall wellness, so we’ve got some general tips for back to school time that will hopefully make the transition a little easier.
Get a good night’s sleep
People of all ages need a solid sleep routine to function at full capacity during the day, but no population more so than children. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, students aged 6-12 should get at least 9-12 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers 13-18 should get 8-10 hours of sleep each night in order to promote optimal health.
The authors of this consensus report also noted that getting the recommended amount of sleep on a regular basis is associated with “better health outcomes including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.” Lack of sleep can also increase the chance of learning and behavior problems, injuries, depression, and in teenagers, the risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts and attempts.
In addition, research shows that screen time before bed can have negative impacts on both children and adults, and can be associated with the “worsening of many mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.” Reminding your child to turn off their devices at least 15-30 minutes prior to bedtime, and even charging them in a common space like the kitchen or living room, can improve sleep hygiene.
Find an after-school routine
Helping your child find a good routine for homework, reading and other activities is a good lesson in time management and self-care. For example, you can show them how the practice of laying out their clothes and packing their lunch the night before sets the tone for a more relaxed morning instead of scrambling to get out the door. A daily routine can provide more stability for children who have a lot of anxiety, and adding in a checklist of regular tasks or chores can offer an incentive to get things done efficiently.
Staying organized as a family can sometimes seem like a challenge, but going back to school can create a natural rhythm and sense of organization that is difficult to find during the summer. You can help kids always know where their things are by setting up a mudroom, closet or space by the front/garage door as a drop zone for their backpacks, lunch boxes and school supplies.
Staying organized can also offer kids with anxiety a better sense of control when life feels overwhelming. Look for natural times to help them declutter their backpack or supply drop zone, like the end of each week, to help them feel on top of things again. Clutter in the space where kids do their homework can also contribute to distractions. Help them reorganize their room, desk or the dining room in order to find a better sense of focus.
Be kind and don’t be afraid to ask for help
Another important part of going back to school is teaching your child to be kind, both by talking about ways to be a good friend and by setting a good example for them. Kids with mental health conditions or learning disorders may sometimes have a hard time making friends, so regardless of whether your child falls into this category, teaching them to be kind can make a big difference.
If you think your child may be experiencing an unusual amount of stress or anxiety, you can look for these common signs and help them get support. In preschool-aged students, you may notice a regression to bed-wetting, baby talk or the development of new fears. In elementary students, you could see clinginess to parents or teachers, worries about their safety or that of family/friends, or difficulty concentrating. For high school students, you might notice signs of depression or agitation, taking unnecessary risks, trouble sleeping or changes in their usual behavior.
Do you need additional mental health support for yourself or your family? Contact the Healthy365 Connection Center today at 317-468-4231 to learn more about the local resources to which we can connect you.