BY: Joy Pitts, MS, LPC, MIOP
True Hope Counseling, PLLC
The shift from a relaxing summer to the school year can be a difficult adjustment for children. No matter the time of year, they are most successful in a stable, structured, and loving environment. While their education is important, mental wellness and emotional intelligence are also essential for success. As parents, we play an instrumental role in helping children achieve and learn skills to achieve mental wellness.
Below are some suggestions that will help ensure your child has a healthy and fun school year.
Don’t exasperate your children.
Have a family meeting prior to the start of the school year to set expectation and limitations for the school year. Some areas to address include: curfews, internet use, homework, bed times, etc…. Children act out when they become frustrated and do not know the limitation or expectations.
Create balance in your child’s life.
It is good for your child to experience and try new things such as sports or activities, yet it is also important to have down time and family time. Balance is the key. Too much of anything is a bad thing. For example: Studying is good. Studying 4-5 hours every night is not good. Sports are good. They teach disciple, sportsmanship, team work, and provide exercise. Yet, participating in too many sports may create overwhelmedness, exhaustion, and difficulty finding time to do homework, family interactions, friends, or rest.
Open lines of communication.
It is time to turn off your cell phone and listen. Children need to be heard and feel they can talk to their parents about anything. Children are becoming confused by all the current topics (i.e. sexuality, drugs, and spirituality) and they are not sure where they fit in and/or what they should be participating in. We need to be available to our children to help them process all this information and be aware of suicide warning signs such as the following: withdrawing or feeling isolated; giving away items they treasure; feelings of hopelessness/lack of worth; mood swings; sleeping too much or too little; talking about or posting about suicide or wanting to die (or not wanting to live) and looking for ways to commit suicide; agitation and irritability; and/or substance use. The child does not have to have all the symptoms. The more signs the child displays the more at risk there is for suicide. Please seek help immediately from a professional if you are concerned.
National Suicide Prevention – 1-800-273-8255
Learn everything about your child.
Get involved and know their likes and dislikes. The more you know about your child the more rapport you will have with them and they are more likely to have difficult conversations with you. Here are some of the areas to know: your child’s likes and dislikes, their teachers, principal, coaches, classes; friends; classes; and struggles. You will be able to take action when necessary knowing these things to help keep your child safe.
Teach your child coping skills (breathing skills, asking for help, exercise, rest, writing down your emotions, etc….).
Coping skills can be demonstrated through modeling. Children learn from what they see us do. Help them to understand self care is important and take breaks and resting is necessary to maintaining emotional wellness.
If you have trouble knowing or modeling coping skills or self care, resources can be obtained through a professional, at the library or even on the internet.
Physical health is important to a child’s mental health.
A healthy life style sets to stage for a child’s success. The main components of a healthy lifestyle include: exercise, sleep (rest), healthy eating, and doctor check up (physical, eye appointment/treatment, hearing testing/treatment, and dental/appointments/treatment.
Sleep is essential. It can help a child handle the events of the next day. According to the National Sleep Foundation: Newborns need 11 to 13 hours of sleep. Infants need 10 to 11 hours of sleep. Toddlers 1 to 2 years old need 9-10 hours. Preschoolers 3 to 5 years of age need 10-13 hours of sleep. Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours a day. Children 6 to 13 years of need 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep. Young Adults need 7-9 hours of sleeps. When children do not get enough sleep, they tend to act out. Lack of sleep can look like ADHD symptoms.
Exercise – Exercise releases the ‘feel good’ endorphins to the brain.
Make sure your child’s basic needs are met.
A child’s basic needs must be met before they are able to learn. Basic needs include: shelter, food, rest, safety (protection and security), and order (structure, limitations, etc..) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A child must have a safe environment in order to move to a level of learning.