The anticipation of the first days of school can be filled with excitement for some little ones. For others, it can be the end of a fun summer and not nearly as enticing. Helping your kids get prepared for school can set them up for a great and healthy school year.
These last few years have been hard on all of us. Many of us are looking forward with hope, but we can’t deny mental health has plummeted in children and teens as well as adults. The phrase ‘new normal’ has been a hot one, these last few years. When we pause and take a step back to look at our children, though, we quickly realize that there’s no such thing as a ‘new normal’ for them. This is just their normal. For some of them, COVID restrictions aren’t just a small hiccup–they’ve been their entire life, or at least a large percentage of their school lives! So how do we help our kids transition back to “normal,” when all they’ve known for so much of their school times has been faulty COVID mitigation strategies.
Going Back to School Mentally Healthy
Setting our kiddos up for a positive school experience, and life experience, starts with their mental health. While the statistics aren’t encouraging, there is so much parents can do to support their young scholars in this area.
The CDC says that:
It is estimated that as many as 1 out of 5 children experience a mental disorder in a given year, and an estimated $247 billion is spent each year on treatment and management of childhood mental disorders.
It’s going to take some proactive solutions to help your child here. But it can be done! What are some areas you can set your child up for success when it comes to their mental and brain health when going back to school?
Limit Screen Time
While the artificial blue light from screens isn’t necessarily bad, it isn’t good for your child to absorb it for long periods of time. Schools have been running headlong into using tablets and computers and all kinds of other screens in studying for a while, now. This is helpful for learning new things, and schools are finding it very useful. However, it’s not good for children to be staring at a screen the entire school day, only to come home and stare at a screen some more. Not to mention how much easier it is to find non-age-appropriate content when you can access the entire internet.
Encourage your child to get outside and play or enjoy the sun to help them relax after a day of school. Enact screen detoxes in the evenings or over the weekend. Go for adventures and find fun activities that don’t involve a screen. Read a book, play a game–board or otherwise, race cars, come up with your own stories, or run around the yard. Learn a hobby, take a nap, or talk about how everyone’s day was, and how it could’ve been better. Then come up with ways to make ‘better’ happen, tomorrow.
Help Them Prepare for the Differences in Learning
If a child is going into third grade, this year, they haven’t had a “normal school year” since kindergarten. There’re large differences between learning in a classroom and learning at home.
Have an open discussion with them and help them see what they should expect to change going into this year. How it will be different from the last several. Have a discussion with them and any other guardians they have and think about what the best way for them to learn is.
Will they benefit from the structured schedule of school? What ways can you help them prepare for that? Start making lunches and snacks ahead of time and set a specific time for lunch. Get them a good-quality water bottle and start practicing keeping track of their hydration throughout the day. Start setting specific bedtimes, wakeup times, and times to do chores or play outside to make that transition easier.
Would your child benefit more from an individual approach, whether that’s homeschooling or a tutor? Start setting up “to-do” lists for the day or week so they can practice time management.
Start taking little steps to help them prepare so it isn’t as jarring and exhausting when the first day of school comes.
Mental Health Days
No one can run open throttle all day every day and do well. Help your child recognize that a good grade isn’t worth them driving their mind, body, and health into the ground. Your body can’t tell the difference between the stress of being attacked by a bear, and the stress of a lot of homework or an argument with a friend. Your body handles physical, mental, and chemical stress the same way. If your little one is getting overwhelmed by school and it’s getting to be too much, let them have a mental health day. Their mental health is just as important as their physical health.
Let the weekends be a weekend. Don’t drag their homework out over the entire thing. Let them have a break and let them be a child. Get outside, play with them, help your little one stretch their imagination and use the wonderful mind they have.
Going Back to School Socially Healthy
As adults that have gone through normal school years, we’re aware that going to school with your friends doesn’t mean you’re hanging out with them all the time. If it’s been years since your little one had a “normal school year,” though, they may not be aware of that. Have a discussion with your child where you help them see that they’re at school to learn; there are times to talk and play, and times not to. Be sure to establish enough social time outside of school to support them in healthy ways.
Keep up discussions and open lines of communication throughout the school year. How is the relationship between them and the other children? Are there classmates they struggle with? Classmates that they enjoy being with? Ones they seek out? Why? Are they dealing with bullies? Social interactions can cause immense amounts of stress in people, and children don’t always know how to handle it well. We’ve all gone through a stressful social period, don’t let mishandled stress lead to even more relational problems for your child. Friendships have been handled in a different way the last few years than they’re normally handled. Depending on the age of your child, though, that may be the only way they know of to interact with others their age. Help them gracefully make the transition of how to relate and get along with children. Maybe help establish some healthy play dates with kiddos they do enjoy spending time with. Be sure to chat about your child’s social interactions and help them navigate them when they are young. This will help set up a successful path for when the are teens. Consider it an investment today!
Going Back to School Physically Healthy
School rhythms are quite different than the days of summer. A change in schedule can be exhausting and stressful. Especially for children. Between homework, friends, extracurriculars, and getting up so early in the morning, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. But it can also be exciting!
How much schoolwork does your child have? Are they learning at the proper level or being challenged enough? Is there something they’re struggling to understand, or do they feel they are soaring through? Is there a class they don’t enjoy; which ones do they enjoy? Sit with them. Ask them about where they are thriving and where they are struggling. How many extracurriculars is your child in? Are they enjoying them, or does that, too, feel like a chore? Ask these questions and be open to the possibility that the answer may require conversations with teachers and coaches. Take time to find out what they do enjoy and figure out why. Try to infuse more of that into their life!
Stress to a young child doesn’t look like what adults often consider stress. In fact, many of us would wonder what our children could possibly stress about! Falling off the monkey bars is stress, needing to sit through a class they don’t enjoy is stress, and the body handles it the same way. If you’re stressed, your body’s prime concern becomes survival, even if the stress you’re facing doesn’t put your life in danger. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are also stressors. Proper sleep habits are crucial to children, and the adjustment back to school can be a big one here!
Children’s minds, bodies, and social lives are different than an adult’s. Let a child be a child. Get them outside and playing. Let them have a break from school at the end of the day and week. Get them outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Let them run around a park and build things with blocks. Let them take tumbles and get dirty and make mistakes, knowing that they may not feel they can make mistakes in school, often due to grading pressures.
Setting Your Child Up for Success
Good Eating Habits
We’ve all known how important healthy foods are for our physical health. Sometimes those sneaky, colorful, enticing, nutrition-lacking snacks and “fun foods” sneak in. The quality of what fuel your little one takes in determines the quality they can put out. If your child’s body is fighting to continue functioning properly, they’re dealing with a lot of stress. Set your little one up for success in going back to school by reducing the stress on their system with good eating habits. Get their allergies tested, and cut things like dairy, sugar, GMOs, dyes, the dirty dozen, and inflammatory foods from their diets. Get creative and help your student pack their lunch box the same way you would pack a back pack; help them prepare for their day!
How Do You Mitigate the Stress of the Mandates?
There are some school districts that will likely require things like masks and vaccines in order for kids to go back to school. This will simply add more stress for parents and children as the same failed mitigation attempts are repeated. Not only are children the most resilient age group to viruses, but both the masks and vaccines have been shown to not work at all. The masks have also been shown to be incubators for dangerous germs that we are then having our children put right by their mouth and nose.
Things like masks and vaccines cannot be mandated without allowance for personal and spiritual beliefs. You do not have to make your child wear them, even if that means finding a different school. Be sure to check out the options you have available to alleviate these stressors before they become an issue.
Parents, Be There and Be Patient
Going back to school brings excitement and challenges every year. There is so much to look forward to, and also new rhythms we’re not used to yet. Children need their parents, even if they seem to be throwing the entire day’s worth of attitude at you. You’re safe to do that with, and they may be exhausted or dealing with big emotions. Be your child’s advocate and know it’s not personal. At the beginning of the school year, everyone is tired, and when you’re tired, stress is magnified; it’ll get easier.
Physical Stress Relief
As stated above, the body responds to physical and emotional stress the same way. Even if you can’t relieve all mental and social stress, then, relieving physical stress will help your child handle the other stressors easier. Get them adjusted by a chiropractor to make sure their bodies are in alignment, make sure they get enough rest and water. If those are a bit more of a fight, check out our tips for a better night’s sleep, and ways to keep water interesting enough to drink.
Back to school doesn’t have to be a rough time of year, but it does take some preparation and forethought. To get your allergies tested, or to get adjusted, contact a Wellness Way clinic today!