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Back-to-School stress and mental health

Em Collins • 8/16/18

Back-to-School stress and mental health

As students prepare for a new school year, many parents will notice common stresses that often coincide with new classes and schedules. Ann Lagges, PhD, director of the Psychology Internship Program in the Department of Psychiatry, is very familiar with stresses that often bombard young student’s lives and, inevitably, their parents.

Lagges shares some quick tips for parents to keep in their back pockets as a new academic year arrives and children face new challenges.

Prepare

It’s important to figure out what your family routine will be for the upcoming school year. The morning of the first day back to school is not the time to start looking for your child’s essentials. Do an inventory check of what clothing and school supplies are still usable from last year and what new items need to be purchased so that by the first day of school your kids are ready for a new year! Also, taking note of upcoming schedules can you save you time and worry:

  • What time will you need to leave/what time does the bus come?
  • What is the plan for after-school time this year?
  • What will the rules be for the school year regarding things like screen time?

Ease anxieties 

If there is anything new about this coming school year take steps to learn so that anxieties can be lessened.

  • My family has recently moved and my child will be attending a new school
    • Visiting the school before the first day and meeting teachers and students is a great way to ensure your child has the support system they’ll need.
  • My child is getting older and will be attending middle/high school
    • Fortunately, most school districts assist in helping kids make these big transitions, but it never hurts to stay ahead of the game. Find out as much as you can about how things work at the new school and what your child should expect. Remind your child that everyone is in the same boat when it comes to new features like lockers and learning their way around a new, and often bigger, school.

“Your children voice worries about the coming year, such as if their teacher will be nice or strict if the work will be too hard, if there will be too much homework, or if particular peers will or won’t be in their class,” Ann Lagges, PhD.


Develop new plans

With each new school year, every child faces different challenges. What’s important is to take note of these difficulties and learn how you and your child set the stage for a better year in the future.

  • Tardy a lot?  Routines can do wonders. By letting a steady routine fade into your child’s day-by-day, especially in the morning, this can enable better time management and prevent your child from running late to classes.
  • Missing a lot of assignments? Develop a new organization plan to help your child stay aware of their curriculum.
  • Stressed from all of the work and activities? From sports and clubs to exams and study sessions—school can be a busy time of year. Create a plan to keep your child from getting overscheduled. Help them see the value in getting enough for sleep, eating healthy meals and taking time to relax.
  • Trouble with bullying?  It’s unfortunate when this occurs and becomes even more challenging if it impacts your child. Should a bullying situation mingle itself with your young family members, make sure your child is heard so that this issue can be understood and can be quickly addressed before leading to further stresses as the year progresses.
  • Is negativity overshadowing positive experiences? Sometimes kids can feel overly negative about going back to school. If so, try to help balance this negativity with some positive aspects of the new school year, such as seeing friends, taking interesting classes, and participating in exciting activities or sports. It’s important to note that the school year doesn’t have to be all positive, but ensure negativity isn’t the only expression getting attention from your child.

Sleep

Lastly and most importantly, get back on the school year schedule. Many kids and teenagers stay up later and sleep more during the summer than they do during the school year. A gradual shift back to the school sleep schedule works best to ensure an easy flow into the new school year. Start working on this at least a week before school starts.

Learn how the Department of Psychiatry residency and internship programs are supporting future neurobiological research and stress treatments.

Author

Em Collins

Communications Coordinator

Em Collins oversees communication strategies for the departments of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Radiology and Imaging Sciences at IU School of Medicine