Posted by Alison T. Brill, MPH, Community Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health
School is back in session, which can be a stressful time for teens and parents alike. The transition from a more relaxed summer schedule to a new school year, filled with new faces, homework and more scheduled activities, can bring about a mix of anxiety, anticipation and excitement. The good news is that there are some simple strategies that you and your family can use to help ease back into the school routine.
1. Reinforce good sleep habits. Getting plenty of rest and sleep are important not only for good grades and staying awake, but also for preventing depression and other mental health issues. Establish a reasonable bedtime routine for your teen and let them know that sleep is important.
2. Be available. Teens often appreciate being able to connect with you at the end of their school day, so try to be available either in person or on the phone when your teen gets home from school. Even if your budding adult complains, be persistent. You want to make connecting part of your routine. Walking or driving home together and having uninterrupted dinners provide other great opportunities to bond and communicate.
3. Stay connected. As kids get older, they often share less with parents/caregivers, but that doesn't mean you should be less aware of how they’re feeling. Send encouraging texts or personal notes in their book bag to help reduce anxiety and let them know that they are not alone at school, even if they may feel that way. Take time to listen and discuss experiences that may appear to be scary or challenging. Spend time each day talking to your teen about what happened in school. Give positive feedback about their new experiences.
4. Serve healthy food and encourage healthy eating. Food choices affect mood, ability to concentrate and energy level - all key in your teen’s academic success and overall well-being. Providing healthy foods is important for your teen's mental and physical health. Serve a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and other ideas here.
5. Encourage regular exercise. Physical activity is great for mental wellness and has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety. Experts believe that exercise releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. Regular exercise can also boost your teen’s self-esteem and help them concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Help your teen find types of exercise they enjoy, and try to be active together (if they’ll let you!).
6. Reinforce your teen’s ability to cope. Give your teen a few strategies to manage difficult situations on their own. Many teens find talking with a trusted friend, adult, or therapist, journaling, exercising and listening to and/or playing music to be helpful ways of coping with stress.
Additional resources: National Association of School Psychologists
Wishing you and your family a smooth transition back into school!