As students settle into the new school year, parents and caregivers can support their kids by checking in on their mental health. The school days can take a toll on some students’ emotional well-being.
According to Dr. Sarah Love, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital, the beginning of the school year may come with added stress and anxiety, whether or not your child or teen has a diagnosable mental health disorder.
“There tends to be increased stress related to the big change, balancing their schedule, and balancing more demands than they had over the summer,” Love says.
While the first weeks of school are typically more laid back, Love says there’s often an increased demand for mental health services around mid-September and October.
“Particularly as kids and teens are getting their first tests and exams coming up and their whole workload is increasing,” she says.
In fact, since the pandemic, Love says there has been an increase in mental health concerns across the board — including mood disorders, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
“There’s ongoing concern for the COVID-19 pandemic and schools continuing to try to manage those outbreaks,” she says. “We see increasing concern amongst our students for school shootings. And there’s a lot going on economically, for a lot of families.”
How Parents Can Help
“One of the biggest things is to make sure that kids and teens know that you’re here for them,” Love says. “You’re here to listen. You’re going to provide that listening ear, and you want to know how they’re feeling and how things are going.”
Love adds that parents and caregivers can help by modeling healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety.
“If we’re openly talking to kids about ways to manage stress or things that we ourselves are doing to manage stress, they are going to pick up on that,” she says.
It can also be helpful to sit down with your child and make a list of activities that they can do when they’re feeling stressed or anxious, something that Love recommends. “Maybe they really like going for a run or just having time to spend with their parents or spending time with friends.”
“Learning ways to relax their body is great for managing stress,” Love adds. “So teaching and learning skills like belly breathing, yoga, guided meditation and muscle relaxation.”
Seek Out Advice
If you’re wondering whether to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional, Love says to keep an eye out for big changes in your child’s mood, sleep, or eating habits.
“If you have a kid or teen that’s really interested in school, and you’re noticing a big shift in their grades or how they’re doing in school, that would be another sign that maybe we want to talk to our pediatrician or talk to a mental health professional to get some more information on what might be going on,” she says.
Likewise, if they are withdrawing from activities they normally enjoy or their anxiety is interfering with their ability to do things, you may want to consider reaching out to their doctor.
“Seek out advice,” she says. “Talk to your pediatrician or talk to a mental health professional, or even talk to the school counselor about those concerns that you have.”