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Back to School Mental Health Tips for Parents

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As the school holidays come to an end, the return to classrooms can bring about a mix of emotions for young people. The pressures of studies, the sudden shift in routines, and the pace of life can all contribute to challenges in their mental health. 

The start of a new school year can be a time of excitement and anticipation for kids, but it can also be a source of stress and anxiety. After all, there are new classes, new teachers, and new challenges to face. And for students who have been struggling with their mental health, the back-to-school transition can be even more difficult.

With the added disruptions caused by the pandemic and lockdown in recent years, concerns about social isolation and loneliness have only grown, especially as we enter the winter months and there’s still an element of uncertainty in the air about what this winter will bring. 

It's crucial for parents to be aware of these challenges and to support their children's mental wellbeing as they head back to school.

Back to School Mental Health Tips for Parents

Back to School Mental Health Tips for Parents:

Here are some practical tips for parents to help their kids navigate the transition and boost their mental resilience:

  1. Encourage Social Engagement

More social interaction can have a positive impact on mental health. Encourage your child to reconnect with friends and engage in group activities. Whether it's team sports, clubs, or social events, being around peers can provide a sense of belonging and support.

  1. Open Communication

Create an environment where your child feels comfortable discussing their feelings. Regular conversations about school, friendships, and any concerns they might have can help alleviate anxiety.

It's important to create a safe space where your child feels comfortable talking to you about their worries and concerns. Let them know that you're there to listen and support them.

  1. Establish a Routine

A consistent daily routine can provide a sense of stability. Help your child set a schedule for waking up, meals, study time, and relaxation. This can reduce feelings of uncertainty and promote a sense of control.

  1. Prioritise Physical Wellbeing

Recognising the close relationship between physical and mental health is essential for supporting your child's wellbeing. Prioritising physical health can have a profound impact on their mental state.

Encouraging your child to maintain a balanced lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a well-rounded diet, and sufficient sleep creates a strong foundation for overall wellness.

Engaging in physical activity has both physical and mental benefits. Regular exercise helps release endorphins, which are natural chemicals in the brain that elevate mood and reduce stress. This can lead to an improved sense of wellbeing.  Learn how to incorporate exercise into daily life and make it a habit.

Teaching your child the importance of regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and ample sleep instils positive habits that can have lifelong benefits for their physical and mental health.

As a parent, you can play an active role in promoting physical wellbeing. By modelling these healthy behaviours in your own life and encouraging your child to prioritise their physical health, you're equipping them with valuable tools to thrive both physically and mentally, especially during the back-to-school period.

  1. Explore Counselling Options

Many schools offer counselling services. Discuss the availability of counselling or therapy sessions with your child. Having a safe space to talk about their concerns, without a parent present, can be immensely beneficial.

  1. Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Help them develop healthy coping mechanisms. There are many different ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Some helpful strategies include exercise, relaxation techniques, and spending time with loved ones.  Other healthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Creative Expression: Encourage artistic outlets like drawing, painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument. Engaging in creative activities can serve as a therapeutic way to channel emotions.

  • Positive Self-Talk: Teach your child the importance of self-compassion and positive self-talk. Encourage them to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with affirming and constructive statements.

  • Setting Boundaries: Help your child establish healthy boundaries to manage stress and avoid being overwhelmed. Teaching them to say no when necessary and prioritise their own wellbeing is a valuable skill.

  • Volunteering and Helping Others: Engaging in acts of kindness and giving back can foster a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Encourage your child to participate in volunteering opportunities.

  • Time Management: Teach effective time management skills to help your child better balance their responsibilities and reduce stress caused by time constraints.

  • Humour and Laughter: Encourage your child to find joy in humour and laughter. Watching a funny movie or engaging in light-hearted activities can provide a much-needed emotional release.

  • Practising Gratitude: Encourage your child to reflect on things they are grateful for. This can shift their focus from stressors to positive aspects of their life.

  1. Chew Sugar-Free Gum to Reduce Stress

Chewing sugar-free gum can reduce anxiety and stress levels.  This is a simple self-soothing technique that can be used for older children when they are feeling particularly overwhelmed or stressed. 

Studies have highlighted the potential stress-reduction benefits of chewing gum. Research indicates that consistent use of chewing gum can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. For instance:

  1. Introduce Stress-Relief Techniques

It's important to have stress relief techniques that can be employed in the moment of stress.  As mentioned, simple self-soothing tools like chewing sugar-free gum can be helpful.  While not a sole solution, it can be part of an overall strategy to manage stress.

Here are some suggestions for more stress-relief techniques that can be used at the time of stress:

  • Deep Breathing

  • Mindfulness Exercises

  • Visualisation

  • Journaling

  • Walking in Nature

  • Listening to Music

Remember, stress relief techniques are not one-size-fits-all. Different techniques work better for different people and situations. The goal is to equip your child with a variety of tools they can choose from when facing stress.

  1. Promote Mindfulness

Teach your child mindfulness techniques to manage stress. Breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness apps can help them stay present and cope with challenging situations.

  1. Lead by Example

Children are keen observers and often learn by emulating the behaviours they see around them. As a parent, your actions can be a powerful influence on your child's approach to managing stress and practising effective stress management techniques. 

By modelling healthy coping mechanisms and stress management strategies in your own life, you provide them with a valuable blueprint for navigating life's challenges. Here's how you can lead by example:

  • Practice Self-Care: Prioritise self-care in your daily routine. Demonstrate the importance of taking time for yourself, whether it's engaging in hobbies, reading, or simply unwinding. This sends the message that nurturing your own wellbeing is essential.

  • Express Emotions Positively: Display healthy ways of expressing emotions. Show your child that it's okay to express feelings in a constructive and respectful manner, whether it's joy, frustration, or sadness.

  • Effective Problem-Solving: When faced with challenges, model effective problem-solving. Involve your child in discussions about solutions, encouraging critical thinking and creative approaches.

  • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques into your routine. Practice deep breathing, meditation, or other relaxation methods to demonstrate how to manage stress in a calm and centred manner.

  • Open Communication: Foster an environment of open communication in your family. Share your thoughts and feelings with your child, and encourage them to do the same. This creates a supportive space where emotions are acknowledged and discussed.

  • Healthy Boundaries: Set and communicate healthy boundaries in your own life. Demonstrate the importance of saying no when necessary and valuing your own wellbeing.

  • Seek Support: If you're facing a particularly stressful situation, show your child that seeking support is a sign of strength. Whether it's talking to friends, family, or seeking professional guidance, your willingness to ask for help teaches them the importance of reaching out.

By consistently embodying these healthy behaviours, you provide your child with a tangible example of how to manage stress and build emotional resilience. 

Your actions speak volumes, and when they see you practising what you preach, they're more likely to adopt these positive coping mechanisms in their own lives. 

Leading by example is a powerful way to empower your child with the skills they need to thrive, especially during the back-to-school transition and beyond.

  1. Stay Attuned

Remaining attuned to your child's emotions, behaviours, and mood is a critical aspect of being a supportive and responsive parent. By paying close attention to any shifts in their demeanour, you can provide timely assistance and guidance when needed. 

Changes in behaviour, mood, or routine can often be indicators of underlying stress or emotional struggles. Being attuned allows you to notice these signs early and address them before they escalate.

Look out for persistent signs of distress, such as withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, irritability, or sudden changes in academic performance.

As a parent, your intuition can be a valuable guide. If you have a gut feeling that something might be wrong, don't hesitate to initiate a conversation and offer your support.

Staying attuned to your child's emotional wellbeing creates a foundation of understanding and support. By being aware of their experiences and challenges, you can offer the assistance they need to navigate stressful situations effectively. Remember, your active involvement in their emotional journey can make a significant impact on their overall mental health and resilience.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations

Maintaining realistic expectations for your child is crucial. Avoid placing undue pressure on them to be flawless. Instead, assist them in establishing achievable goals that match their abilities and ambitions. This approach nurtures a supportive atmosphere that encourages personal growth and self-acceptance. 

  1. Celebrate Achievements

Taking time to acknowledge your child's triumphs, whether they are significant milestones or minor victories, is a potent way to enhance their self-assurance and motivation. By appreciating their accomplishments, you convey the message that their hard work holds significance and that their potential knows no bounds. 

Positive reinforcement not only elevates their self-esteem but also spurs them to persist in pursuing excellence and confronting challenges with a positive attitude.

  1. Encourage Enough Sleep

Making sure your child gets enough sleep is especially vital as the back-to-school season approaches. Having the right amount of sleep is crucial for getting them ready for school. It directly affects their ability to learn, concentrate, and adapt to the challenges of a new academic year. 

When your child gets enough sleep, their cognitive functions work at their best, helping them absorb information more effectively during lessons. This can lead to improved academic performance as they can better understand and remember what they're taught. 

Additionally, a well-rested mind is better equipped to handle problem-solving tasks and engage in critical thinking, both of which are essential skills for succeeding in school.

Sufficient sleep also deeply influences your child's emotional wellbeing. A lack of sleep can lead to mood swings, irritability, and even feelings of stress and anxiety. 

A good night's sleep helps regulate emotions, enabling your child to approach challenges with a calmer and more resilient mindset. 

By making sleep a priority, you're giving your child the strong foundation they need to confidently navigate the back-to-school period with focus, positivity, and self-assurance.  When kids are well-rested, they're better able to cope with stress and focus on their schoolwork.  The link between sleep and good health, both physically and mentally is well documented.

  1. Provide a Healthy Diet

Ensuring that your child maintains a healthy and balanced diet can significantly impact their mood and energy levels and improve mental health. Nutritious foods are essential not only for physical wellbeing but also for mental health. Here's how a healthy diet can contribute to your child's overall wellbeing:

  • Balanced Nutrition: A diet rich in whole foods provides essential nutrients that support brain function and emotional well-being. Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats into their meals.

  • Steady Energy Levels: Foods with a balanced combination of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats can help regulate blood sugar levels. This steadies their energy levels throughout the day, preventing mood swings caused by blood sugar spikes and crashes.

  • Brain Health: Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like walnuts, and flaxseeds are known to support brain health and cognitive function. Including these foods can contribute to better concentration and focus.

  • Vitamins and Minerals: Essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, vitamin D, and magnesium, play a role in mood regulation and stress reduction. A diet rich in these nutrients can positively impact your child's emotional wellbeing.

  • Gut-Brain Connection: The gut and brain are closely connected through the gut-brain axis. A diet high in fibre and fermented foods can promote a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn may positively influence mood and mental health.

  • Hydration: Staying hydrated is vital for overall health, including mental wellbeing. Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day to support cognitive function and mood stability.

By offering a variety of nutrient-dense foods and limiting sugary and processed options, you can provide your child with the building blocks their body and mind need to thrive. A healthy diet can contribute to a stable mood, increased energy levels, and better overall mental health, especially during the back-to-school transition.

  1. Help Your Child Get Organised

Having a good organisational system can help reduce stress and make it easier for your child to stay on top of their schoolwork.  Before they go back to school make sure they have everything they need such as the correct school uniform, PE kit, comfortable shoes, coats and school bags.  Ensure it’s all labelled and ready to wear.  Print their school schedule and ensure it’s pinned in their room so they know school timings and their lesson plan.  Set their morning alarm to give them plenty of time to get up and ready for the school day ahead.

  1. Talk to Teachers

Let their teachers know about any concerns you have about your child's mental health. They can work with you to create a supportive environment for your child in the classroom.

If you're concerned about your child's mental health, don't hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can provide your child with the support and tools they need to manage their mental health challenges.

Final Thoughts

Remember that each child is unique, and their needs may vary. By providing a supportive and understanding environment, parents can play a crucial role in helping their children thrive during the back-to-school period. 

It’s also important to be patient.  The back-to-school transition can be tough on everyone. Be patient with your child and give them time to adjust.

While challenges may arise, with the right strategies, parents can empower their kids to navigate these changes with resilience and confidence.

I hope these tips help you support your child's mental health during the back-to-school season. Remember, you're not alone in this. There are many resources available to help you and your child.

Roundup: Back to School Mental Health Tips for Parents

  • Encourage Social Engagement

    • Reconnect with friends and engage in group activities.

    • Participate in team sports, clubs, or social events.

  • Open Communication

    • Create a comfortable space for discussing feelings.

    • Regularly talk about school, friendships, and concerns.

  • Establish a Routine

    • Set a consistent daily schedule for waking up, meals, study time, and relaxation.

  • Prioritise Physical Wellbeing

    • Encourage regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep.

  • Explore Counselling Options

    • Discuss the availability of counselling or therapy sessions at school.

  • Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

    • Teach various strategies such as exercise, relaxation and spending time with loved ones.

  • Chew Sugar-Free Gum to Reduce Stress

    • Consider using chewing gum as a self-soothing technique.

  • Introduce Stress-Relief Techniques

    • Employ techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, visualisation, journaling, nature breaks, and listening to music.

  • Promote Mindfulness

    • Teach mindfulness techniques through breathing exercises, meditation, and apps.

  • Lead by Example

    • Model healthy coping mechanisms and stress management.

  • Stay Attuned

    • Watch for changes in behaviour or mood and seek professional help if needed.

  • Set Realistic Expectations

    • Help your child set achievable goals and celebrate their accomplishments.

  • Encourage Enough Sleep

    • Prioritise rest for better stress management and focus.

  • Provide a Healthy Diet

    • Nutritious foods can improve mood and energy levels.

  • Help Get Organised

    • Establish an organisational system and prepare for the school day.

  • Talk to Teachers

    • Communicate concerns to create a supportive classroom environment.

  • Seek Professional Help

    • Don't hesitate to consult a therapist if concerned about your child's mental health.

  • Final Thoughts

    • Remember that each child is unique.

    • Be patient during the back-to-school transition.

By applying these strategies, parents can empower their children to navigate the challenges of returning to school with resilience and confidence.