Back to school is an exciting time– from the happiness of reuniting with friendly faces after a long summer, to the thrill of a new routine. However, sending your children back to school can also be stressful – even when there isn’t a global pandemic. As schools in our community welcome students back to their classrooms – in person or virtually – it’s understandable that children and parents alike may have increased feelings of anxiety, depression or other symptoms.
At Blue KC, we believe in treating the health of the whole person – a concept that puts behavioral health, or the connection between one’s physical and mental well-being, at the center. Your child’s behavioral health is a crucial piece of his or her development. Here are five recommendations for easing the transition’s impact on your children’s behavioral health as they head back to schrool.
Establish Your Routine
Routines promote feelings of safety and security for children. Before the first day of school, discuss with your child what back-to-school is going to look like. Depending on their age, you can share what time they will need to wake up and go to sleep, who their teacher will be, how you will handle pick-up and drop-off (or other transportation, like taking the bus) and other expectations, such as meals and the school’s policies for wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands. If your child’s routine changes – whether it be a change in COVID-19 safety policies or new after-school activities – help them understand the reason for the change.
Be a Cheerleader
Start a conversation with your child to discuss how they’re feeling about going back to school – and revisit that conversation frequently. Reassure him or her that you are always there for them to talk to, and that they have other resources, too – such as their teachers, school counselors and other administration. Make sure your child knows that he or she should always speak up about feelings of stress, sadness or anger. If your child is anxious about being away from you, a sibling, or even a pet, allow them to bring a small reminder with them to school, as permitted (such as a small toy or a photo). And, don’t forget to enjoy the little things that come along with raising children – as adults, we can forget to appreciate small wins and special moments like good grades or getting our children ready for their first school dance. Revel in these moments with your children so they know you appreciate the journey you’re on together.
Find a Balance
School may be a big part of your child’s life, but it’s important for them to take time away from their schoolwork to decompress and recharge. Help them balance their homework and other school commitments by teaching them how to manage their time – for example, stepping in to help if an assignment is taking longer than it should. Also consider getting your child involved in social activities, such as playgroups or sports teams, to build his or her social skills and reintroduce consistent social interaction with peers. Try incorporating other enrichment activities into your child’s day, too, such as teaching them life skills how to cook or meal prep.
It’s important to recognize and validate your children’s – and your own – negative feelings. Set a good example on how to acknowledge feelings of sadness or stress and help your children understand how to manage those feelings. Also keep in mind that you and your children are navigating truly unprecedented circumstances together, and that it’s very normal to experience feelings of uncertainty and stress.
Know When to Seek Professional Care from a Behavioral Health Expert
Among many other factors, stress remains one of the most prevalent barriers to academic success. During these uncertain times, an increasing number of students have reported feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Social isolation can lead to feelings of extreme loneliness and consequently higher rates of depression, particularly in adolescents. In some cases, children may need some extra help managing their stress. Consider setting up a session with a school counselor or behavioral therapist, who can lend a listening ear and specialized advice to the child who needs it.
Blue KC also offers assistance from behavioral health experts 24/7. Blue KC’s Mindful Advocates, licensed behavioral health clinicians and support specialists, can support kids and their parents, too! Mindful Advocates are experts at navigating care and crisis management for Blue KC members of all ages and can help connect you to the behavioral health resources right for you. They’re only a call away with the number on your member ID card. You can also visit MindfulBlueKC.com for more information.