Back-to-School Mental Health: How to Help Your Child Prepare
Back to school can be a time of excitement, but it can also be a time of stress and anxiety for students with mental health challenges. As a parent, you may be feeling worried about how your child will cope with the start of a new school year.
It's important to remember that you're not alone. Many parents of children with mental health challenges experience similar concerns. However, there are things you can do to help your child prepare for back to school and cope with stress.
Keep reading to learn more about common challenges your student may face, tips for helping manage those challenges, and additional resources.
Common Mental Health Challenges & How to Recognize the Signs
Unfortunately, statistics show that 50% of all people who will have a mental health disorder in their lifetime begin to experience symptoms by age 14.
Here are some of the common mental health challenges that students face during back to school:
- Stress: The start of a new school year can be a stressful time for students. There are new classes, new teachers, and new expectations. This can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry.
- Anxiety: Anxiety is another common mental health challenge that students face during back to school. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as social anxiety, test anxiety, or performance anxiety.
- Depression: Depression can also affect students during back to school. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as changes in routine, social isolation, or academic pressure.
- Trauma: Students who have experienced trauma may also struggle with mental health challenges during back to school. This can be due to the resurfacing of memories or triggers, or the difficulty of adjusting to a new environment.
Mental health challenges can affect anyone, and it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges so that you can help your child get help if they need. Some of the signs that your child may be experiencing include:
- Changes in mood: Your child may seem more irritable, anxious, or depressed than usual.
- Changes in behavior: Your child may withdraw from friends and activities, or they may start acting out.
- Changes in physical health: Your child may complain of headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue.
- Changes in school performance: Your child may start getting lower grades or have trouble concentrating in class.
- Changes in sleep habits: Your child may start sleeping more or less than usual.
- Changes in eating habits: Your child may start eating more or less than usual.
- Changes in appearance: Your child may start neglecting their appearance or dressing differently.
- Changes in thoughts: Your child may start having negative thoughts about themselves or the world around them.
- Changes in behavior: Your child may start engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors.
Know when the struggles may mean something bigger. Read up on MHA’s fact sheet, “Know the Signs: Recognizing Mental Health Concerns in Kids and Teens, to learn more about what your child may be going through.
Tips for Managing Stress & Anxiety
If you are concerned that your child may be facing a mental health challenge, it is important to talk to them about it. Let them know that you are there to listen and support them. You can also talk to their doctor or a mental health professional. There are many effective treatments available for mental health challenges, and with help, your child can live a happy and healthy life.
If you’re looking for small ways to help your child that can end up making a big difference, here are a few:
Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
When stress or anxiety becomes chronic, it can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. A healthy diet and regular exercise can be vital when it comes to managing stress and anxiety.
- Eating a healthy diet: Eating nutritious foods can help to improve your mood and energy levels, which can make it easier to manage stress. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
- Getting regular exercise: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. It releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
Spend Time with Loved Ones
Spending quality time with loved ones can do a lot for a child. Loved ones can provide emotional support, practical support, and help you feel connected. See what your child needs in terms of support—Do they need you to listen to concerns or gain new perspectives? Do they need help with tasks? Or do they just need to know they aren’t alone?
Practice Relaxation Techniques
When we experience stress or anxiety, our bodies go into "fight or flight" mode. This is a natural response that helps us to deal with danger. However, if we are constantly in fight or flight mode, it can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.
Relaxation techniques can help to calm the body and mind, and reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. There are many different relaxation techniques available, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
Help Them Get Enough Sleep
When you're well-rested, you're better able to cope with stress and anxiety. A healthy sleep routine includes going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding caffeine before bed.
Help them set up their bedroom so it is a place that promotes relaxation and acts as a save haven for them. Quality bedding provides a comfortable place to lay their head and can help improve their sleep quality tremendously.
Suggested Read: If you’d like to learn more about sleep tips for your child, check out our blog “5 Back-to-School Sleep Schedule Tips.”
Make your home a comfortable safe haven for your child that’s warm and inviting and a place they can rest and relax comfortably. Check out Cosy House Collection for everything you’ll need to make their bedroom a perfect place for them.
Resources for Students & Parents
If you need to, try to work with the school. Teachers and caregivers/parents should be able to work together for the best possible outcomes. Be familiar with the options the school may have available if your child needs help emotionally or academically.
To learn more about the things we discussed throughout this blog, and dive more into specific mental health challenges, visit Mental Health America to check out their Back to School Toolkit Materials.
If your child is in need of community mental health services, there are many resources for you. Check them out here.
- Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry, 62(6), 617–627. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.617