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Back to School: 7 mental health tips for kids

Posted on Aug. 18, 2014 ( comments)

Heading back to school is an exciting time for children and families, but changes in schools, teachers, friends and routines can also make it a stressful one.

Bob Beilke, Ph.D., a pediatric and clinical child psychologist who has worked for 21 years at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center in Tacoma, Wash., offers the following advice for starting the school year on the right foot.

1. Establish a routine early 

Prepare your child for a successful start back to school by getting them back on routines a week or two before school starts. Ensure your child develops adequate sleep patterns now.

Don’t wait until a day or two before school starts to begin sending children to bed at a typical school-year bed time and waking them up earlier in the morning. Incorporate some scheduling into the day (for example, regular quiet reading times) to start easing them back into a more regimented schedule.

2. Talk to your children

It’s always good for parents to sit down and talk about what children might be concerned about going back to school. But don’t forget to talk about the positives, too. What are children excited about and looking forward to this school year?

3. Ease worries

If children are nervous about a new school, classroom, or teacher, take them to visit the school before the first day. Show them where they’ll be dropped off and picked up each day and talk through the school day. Older children may find it useful to get their schedule in advance.

4. Monitor social media

Keep an eye on older children’s social media accounts. What are you seeing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? What are your children seeing that they might be nervous or anxious about? Restrict your teen from text messaging in bed after bedtime.

5. Foster positive friendships

For kids who are worried about friendships or loneliness, encourage them to reconnect with a friend before the start of school. Schedule a play date before school starts and help them make plans to see each other at recess or lunch on the first day of school. Pre-load the start of the school year with positive relationships that will help buffer some of the less positive experiences.

6. Create homework strategies

For children who are not academically inclined, the onset of school may signal a time of increased stress and worry for both students and parents. Work with your child to develop a plan for getting homework done and assignments turned in on time. Make a plan to touch base with teachers regularly. Even check your student’s backpack when they come home from school. Set an after-school routine, such as bathroom break, snack and homework before playtime.

7. Don’t stress, parents

Parents have their own set of worries. Talking to other parents can be helpful, as can getting as much information as you can. Review your child's schedule. Set up a time to meet your child’s teacher or school principal and figure out a way to communicate that works well for both of you.

The bottom line: Organization and communication with your child can help start the school year on the right foot both at school and at home.

This story is part of a series of back to school tips from the experts at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children's Hospital & Health Center. It was originally published in September 2013 and updated in August 2014. 

Read related stories in our online Back to School Guide.

Posted in: Kids' Health

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