The MHS Journals

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Mental Health Support for Kids Returning to School

Sep 23, 2021

COVID-19 forced countless students in Minnesota and around the country to attend school virtually, and for many, this did not come as a welcome change. In addition to the academic struggles this brought, it also caused social struggles — especially for younger kids who craved socialization and interaction. This year, many kids will be heading back to school in person, but the change is again proving difficult. Many kids are dealing with fear and anxiety, and as a parent, you need to know how to respond. Consider the following eight tips for addressing kids’ fears and helping them overcome anxiety.

Prepare for Big Changes

Whether or not your kid has been going to school virtually, the beginning of a new year is always a time of big changes. Moving from one grade to the next is a major transition, and it’s natural for a student to be apprehensive about this change as they approach the new year. As a parent, you have the power to alleviate many of these fears and help your child prepare for big changes. Ask your kid whether they’re anxious about the upcoming school year — the answer might surprise you! If they say yes, ask what they’re anxious about, and work through their concerns with them.

Understand Their Feelings

As you work through their concerns, take time to understand exactly what they are feeling and why. Where do their fears stem from? Are these fears rooted in reality or hypotheticals? Truly understanding your kids is an act of love, and more importantly, it helps you address the concerns that they may have from a genuine perspective. If you don’t understand what they’re feeling, the solutions you offer will only be so effective. Remember to ask open-ended questions rather than yes or no questions. This will create more opportunities for conversation as you discuss your child’s feelings with them.

Take Time to Talk to Them

Talking to your child shouldn’t be mistaken for a one-time thing. Rather, it is an ongoing commitment that you must maintain in order to build trust and help them address their own anxieties. Institute a daily check-in routine where you and your kid discuss the day, talk about their experiences, and work through any bad feelings they may be dealing with. Establishing a consistent routine around discussion lets your kid know that you care about what they’re feeling, and you’re available to help them work through their challenges, too.

Let Them Talk to Somebody Else

Sometimes talking to your kid isn’t enough, and that’s okay. Sometimes a child needs to speak with a licensed therapist in order to address issues such as fears and anxieties. Talking to a therapist who specializes in helping kids can help your child address his or her mental health concerns in a safe and supportive environment. Therapists can then teach kids effective coping mechanisms so that they are better equipped to deal with their feelings in the real world. This, coupled with a parent’s support, can help children overcome many struggles that are common as a new school year starts.

Assess the Severity of Symptoms

In addition to investing in counseling, it is possible that your child could benefit from further mental health intervention. You should assess the severity of their symptoms to determine whether they need additional support. Consider, for example, whether your child’s anxiety is so severe that it prevents them from performing academically or connecting socially. If so, therapy is an excellent option for addressing these struggles, and a therapist can evaluate your child to assess whether any further interventions are necessary. If so, they can recommend a course of action to best address any mental health concerns.

Provide Support Where They Struggle

Whether or not therapy or further intervention is necessary, your child needs support from you first and foremost. In order to best provide this support, you should take an inventory of your child’s concerns and identify the areas in which they are struggling the most. Does anxiety dampen their ability to make friends? Is it causing them to underperform academically? Perhaps it is manifesting in lost sleep or lack of appetite. It is your responsibility to identify the areas of their life that are being affected and develop a game plan for offering direct support. This can provide the foundation for positive changes that help your kid overcome their issues.

Encourage Social Connections

Sometimes, kids develop anxiety and other struggles in response to a lack of social connections. This is especially likely following an extended period of time away from peers, such as time spent in virtual school due to COVID-19. One way to potentially help your child overcome these feelings is to encourage social interaction with other kids. It’s important that you provide support, but support from peers is important, too. Do whatever you can to facilitate healthy friendships and provide your kid with opportunities to spend quality time with their peers outside of a school setting.

Find Healthy Outlets

In addition to facilitating friendships, giving your child healthy outlets are imperative to helping them process feelings like anxiety. Studies have shown that art is particularly effective for alleviating symptoms of anxiety and other mental health struggles, too. Supply your child with a hobby to help them take their mind off the stresses of school while working through some of their more difficult feelings. This is a great way to help them find opportunities for more friends, too, as they join groups associated with their new hobby and continue expanding their horizons.

Get Your Kid the Help They Need

If you’ve noticed that your child is struggling in school or seems to be fearful about their impending return to school, they might be dealing with anxiety. The good news is that there are many strategies to help kids manage and overcome anxiety. Consulting with a mental health professional is one of these strategies, and it can help your family identify the problem before it worsens. MHS specializes in helping children and adults alike throughout the state of Minnesota. In addition to services such as dialectical behavior therapy, we provide integrated dual disorder programs and chemical health interventions. Call (952) 835-2002 or request an appointment online to learn more about how we can help.

Featured Image: Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock