Implementing a consistent and simple routine can help smooth the transition into the new school year and ease stress and anxiety in children and teens.
Back to school brings excitement for many, but it can also cause stress and anxiety for children and their families. With youth mental health diagnoses on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important that families feel empowered to support their children’s mental health as they transition into the new school year.
Implementing a simple and consistent routine provides a foundation that promotes positive mental health, according to Channing Brown, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Academic General Pediatrics, and Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. medicine.
“Kids thrive in a structured environment and benefit from routines,” Brown said. “Creating a predictable schedule for your kids helps them feel secure and teaches them how to regulate their bodies.”
Create a sleep schedule
Children’s and teens’ schedules are often disrupted during the summer months. Brown suggests establishing a consistent sleep schedule a few weeks before the school year to help with a smooth transition.
Moving bedtimes earlier can ensure that children get enough sleep and wake up energized for the school day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children ages 6 to 12 should get nine to 12 hours of sleep, and teens ages 13 to 18 should get eight to 10 hours of sleep. Slowly shifting bedtime routines 15-30 minutes before the school year makes it easier for kids to get used to the new time.
Brown says an example of a quality bedtime routine includes a bath or shower, brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, and reading as a family or individually for 15-20 minutes before going out. She also advises staying away from screen time and drinking fluids an hour before bed to calm the brain and reduce nocturnal accidents.
The transition from summer activities to the classroom often means a drop in daytime physical activity. To close this gap, after-school routines should include movement and limit screen time.
“Movement and exercise not only improve physical health, but have been shown to improve academic achievement, sleep quality and behavior,” Brown said. “Studies also show that they can help manage depression and ADHD in children.”
Parents should encourage children to move for at least an hour each day through activities such as dancing, sports, walking and cycling. Brown also encourages parents to provide creative play space for children to stimulate both body and mind.
Establish family time
Back to school also means back to extracurricular activities and busy schedules. Blocking off family time each day, whether it’s eating at least one meal together or participating in a family activity, allows parents to hear from children and provides bonding time.
“Eating one meal a day as a family is associated with a reduced risk of certain mental health conditions such as depression, poor academic performance and substance abuse, and specifically protects against eating disorders in children and teenagers,” Brown said.
When to seek help
Even with a well-established routine, children may need additional mental health support. According to Brown, parents may need to talk to a pediatrician or mental health professional if they witness the following in their children:
- Sleep disturbances or increased need for sleep
- Many new physical symptoms: usually headache, stomach pain, nausea, changes in stools such as constipation or diarrhea
- Irritability or increased crying
- Difficulty focusing
- Worsening school performance or grades
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Behavioral outbursts such as kicking, hitting or throwing
- Restless behavior
- Talking about suicide or death
“Parents need to be open and honest with their children’s teachers if there are mental health issues because teachers can offer additional support,” Brown said. “Above all, knowing that there is a loving adult who is there to listen and help can have a positive impact on a child’s mental health.”