Summer has come to a close, at least according to the Philadelphia School District and other school calendars. Parents and caregivers have been in the throes of back-to-school shopping, backpack stuffing, and other preparations to get their kids ready to go back to school.
For the approximately 200,000 Philadelphia students returning to school, there is undoubtedly a mix of emotions. For some it is disappointment over the end of the slower, laid back days of summer. For others it is excitement in thinking about their new teachers and classes and in seeing school friends they had not seen all summer.
Some other students may feel anxious about what is ahead – particularly if it is a transition to a new school. For others there may be fear and anxiety if they have experienced bullying or other violence in or near school. Returning to school can also be particularly challenging for students with a mental health challenge or developmental disability.
It can also be a stressful time for parents and caregivers as they gear up for a return to the busy routine of dealing with homework, school projects, school athletics, and other activities. This is the time of the year when it is especially important to take care of one’s mental health and well-being.
Some Tips for Your Child’s Return to School
- Adequate sleep. Not getting enough sleep is linked to lower academic achievement, higher rates of absenteeism, and behavioral issues. Help your child with establishing and maintaining a consistent sleep routine that assures they will have the recommended hours of sleep for their age. Children ages 6 to 12 need nine to 12 hours of sleep per day, and children ages 13-18 need eight to 10 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic. Try to limit screen time on phones, television, and other devices as this can make it difficult for your child to wind down to be able to fall asleep.
- Structure. Establish routines for getting ready in the morning, getting to the school (or bus stop), coming home or to childcare, homework time, and time for play or other activities. Help with setting up a system that works for you and your child in keeping track of assignments, school supplies, and other items.
- Nutrition. Children need fuel for learning; a healthy breakfast is a great way to start off the school day. Oatmeal, other whole grain cereals, eggs, and fruit are some excellent choices. Check in about their lunch if they have that at school. A healthy snack after school can help with energy and focus for homework and other activities.
- Managing stress and anxiety. It is helpful for a parent/caregiver to model calmness for their children. Talk with your child about their concerns and acknowledge them. Give them as much information as possible as to what they can expect in the new school year. A visit to a new school or with a new teacher, if possible, and reviewing the class schedule may help your child feel less anxious. You can teach them some ways to manage their anxiety when it arises, such as mindfulness exercises that could include breathing techniques or other methods that are calming. Remind them of their coping strategies when situations arise that trigger their anxiety and let them know you will be there to help them get through it.
- Check in. Find time to check in with your child about their day at school. Ask how things are going with classes or with friends and schoolmates.
- Time to decompress! Children and teens need time to relax, play, and otherwise disconnect from the demands of school. For very young children that may be a short naptime; for older children that could be listening to music or doing a favorite activity.
If your child is exhibiting behavior that is unusual and/or of concern ( crying spells, isolating, acting in an overly aggressive manner, talk of self-harm, hallucinations, anxiety, substance abuse) or is not meeting developmental milestones, you can find a behavioral health provider by contacting CBH Member Services at at 800-545-2600 and at CBHPhilly.org You can also contact your child’s school and request a Student Assistance Program assessment to identify any behavioral health needs or risks.