As area kids head back to school, some will carry more than notebooks and No. 2 pencils.
About 20 percent of children have a mental illness--or will have one in the near future. And even for students without a mental illness, the start of a new school year can bring emotions too big to handle.
We are here to help. Our therapists and prevention experts have some tips for parents to help with the transition of a new year:
- The book "A Kissing Hand" is a great book for little ones to read regarding the transition away from their parents.
- Stick to a consistent bedtime routine.
- Ease morning stress by picking out clothes and packing backpacks and lunches the night before
- Empathize with anxious feelings. Tell your children that you understand their feelings and remind them that you will help them through the transition.
- It’s okay to parent. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s necessary. Set clear rules and boundaries. Be present. Let your children know they can always come to you with any concerns.
- Talk with your child. Ask them about their worries and fears--and about the things that excite them. Everyday moments can bring opportunity for conversation.
- Help your children identify their feelings. And remind them that those feelings are normal. Change is hard for most people.
It can be hard to tell the difference between normal back-to-school jitters and depression or anxiety. Wondering when to worry?
- It’s typical adolescent development to notice a change in behavior related to spending less time with family and more time with friends. Makes sense right? They have more independence, different hobbies, etc. However, be cautious if the adolescent is withdrawing from friends, family, and social activities. Likewise, as we mature, we want more privacy. However, this doesn’t mean becoming secretive or the need for privacy seems to be hiding something. There comes a time when the Barbies, Hot Wheels, and Legos are replaced by other activities (from childhood likes to teen pursuits). If your child is losing interest in everything, dig a little deeper in your conversations. It’s okay to get a new favorite activity. We’re concerned when a favorite activities isn’t replaced with a new and improved favorite activity.
- Use every day moments to keep the conversation going with your child. We have some of our most “interesting” conversations in the car.
- As a sheriff deputy shared at a community forum last year, you have the right to search the rooms and book bags of your children.
- Some warning signs for depression/anxiety in children/adolescents could include:
- Increased irritability/outbursts of anger
- Noticeable change in sleep/eating patterns (either increased or decreased)
- self harm (pay attention if your child is wearing long sleeves/pants in the summer time)
- withdrawing from friends; isolating from former friend groups
- trouble concentrating
- comments that denote feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- increased thoughts/comments about death/suicide
- school refusal
- continuous complaints of upset or nervous bellies which may be related to anxiety
- difficulty making or maintaining friendships
Any substance use by a minor is a cause for concern. Check out “Talk. They Here You.” From SAMSHA to practice these important conversations.
Some signs that your child could be abusing substances include:
- Increased secretive behavior (such as deleting text conversations, not allowing parents to see their phone)
- Increased dishonesty
- Missing school
- Loss of interest in former hobbies
- Grades declining
What should you do if you need additional help? Give us a call. We offer mental health and substance abuse counseling. If you're worried about a child harming themselves or someone else, call our emergency services line: 540-373-6876. We offer specialized crisis services for children.
And, if you want to learn more about how to help youths experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises, we offer Mental Health First Aid training.
On a lighter note, if you want to share some encouragement with your children, here are some notes to leave in their lunch boxes.