As we find ourselves approaching the end of summer, the changing seasons signal a time of transition once again. With the start of the new school year just around the corner, I’m reminded to soak in the sweet moments with my children that the summer schedule affords-the extra time for morning snuggles, playing in the yard just a little longer in the evenings, waiting for the sun to go down. At the same time, we long for the consistent routine that the school year brings. It’s a perfect time to discuss how we can support our little ones’ mental health during this time of transition and growth.
For some kids, it’s not just a new grade, but also a whole new school, which can be a mix of excitement and nerves. According to the CDC, depression and anxiety in our kids has increased over time, and in a recent study, 71% of parents say their children experienced challenges last school year. While it looks different for every family, there are ways that we can help our kids ease into the new school year, and resources are available to address their mental and emotional well-being.
One of the most crucial aspects of supporting our kids’ mental health is fostering meaningful connections. Social connections act as a safety net, helping children navigate challenging situations and emotions. Encourage kids to build friendships by participating in extracurricular activities or clubs they’re interested in, or if this doesn’t suit them, perhaps fostering a friendship with someone in the neighborhood. Shared interests and proximity can be helpful in building last friendships. Social interaction comes naturally for some children and can be very challenging for others. Additionally, some children thrive in groups of friends and others one on one. Create the opportunities for connection that match your child’s personality and needs.
Whether the transition is a positive one or negative one, change can be unsettling and it’s essential to validate our kids’ feelings. Let them know that it’s normal to feel nervous or anxious in new situations. Empathize with their emotions and reassure them that these feelings will gradually fade away as they become more comfortable in their new environment.
As adults, we can set the tone for our kids by embracing change with a positive attitude. Change opens doors to new opportunities and experiences. If we approach this transition with enthusiasm, our kids are more likely to feel excited, too. Remind them that this is a chance to meet new friends, explore different subjects, and discover their passions. If your child is going to a new school where they won’t know anyone, try to find opportunities to introduce them to classmates or teachers before the first day. This can help ease the initial jitters by providing familiar faces in an unfamiliar setting.
During times of transition, and always, seek to create a comfortable and open environment where kids can share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Sometimes, a simple conversation can help them process their emotions and alleviate anxieties.
Consistency and routines can provide a sense of stability during transitions. Help your child establish a daily routine that includes sufficient sleep, regular meals, and dedicated study time. Having a structured day can reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being.
Remind your kids that setbacks are a part of life and that they have the strength to overcome challenges. Encourage them to try new things and support them even if they face difficulties. Building resilience during transitions will benefit them throughout their lives.
Understand the available resources and programs for your child at their school or in the community. Many educational institutions have professional counselors ready to speak with students about their struggles and offer support. Additionally, programs like Jefferson Center’s school-based initiative and Colorado’s I Matter program provide resources and assistance for children, teenagers, and families facing anxiety and other mental health challenges.
As we embark on a new school year, let’s remember that change is a natural part of life and growth. By embracing it with a smile, fostering connections, and being there to listen, we can support our kids’ mental health during this exciting time and ensure they have the tools they need to thrive in their new schools and beyond. Here’s to a wonderful school year filled with endless possibilities and opportunities for our young learners.