Summer — sunshine, fun, vacations, and no routine! Even though the reprieve from school year stress is terrific for mental health, it can create challenges as parents and students try to get back to the routine of the school schedule. The adjustment of this change in schedule can cause stress which may be unhealthy and lead to problems maintaining and promoting good mental health. Below are some tips you and your family can use to develop a successful transition back into the school year.
Sleep! During the summer months, children are going to bed late, sleeping in, and napping during the day. These habits can skew sleep schedules and cause poor mood and irritability. With school starting shortly it is critical to get “sleep hygiene” back on track. Sleep hygiene includes defining a bed and wake-up time, preparing a dark room (only used for sleeping), no electronics, comfortable temperature, and adequate calm-relaxation time before going to bed to prepare the body for sleep. This will make the transition back to school easier and minimize the groaning and moaning from tired and irritable kids due to the sudden change of their “Summer” sleep habits.
Read a book, take a bath, journal about your day’s stressors, so you can leave them on the page and not running through your brain – turn your mind OFF – get a great night’s rest to prepare and recharge for the next day.
Screen time! This refers to the time spent using a device – computer, TV, gaming device. Too much screen time is linked to obesity, irregular sleep schedules, behavioral problems, loss of social skills, violence, and less time for physical play (mayoclinic.org). Prioritize “unplugged” playtime, create tech-free times, (and cut off screen time one hour before bed. Proven scientific research shows that “blue lights” from electronics disrupts sleep. We as parents – should also consider our own screen time, for our mental health and as a model for our children.
Get Active! Just because students are back at school doesn’t mean the family has to be stuck in the house doing homework all night. Take your studying outside! Practice those state capitals as you kick the soccer ball back and forth, go for a walk with your kid and talk about the day. Studies have shown that children who take breaks from class work and are physically active are better able to concentrate on their school work. Short breaks of 5-20 minutes can improve attention span, behavior, and achievement on test scores (usatoday.com). Bonus – it may improve your relationship with your child.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! – If you’re struggling with that homework assignment, that teacher, that bully at school, or that challenging relationship, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Whether it’s your parent, loved one, friend, teacher, counselor, PA, or doctor – speak up! Parents – if you’re struggling to keep up between work, school, appointments, practices, and the upkeep of your house – don’t be afraid to ask for help! Ask for your kid or loved one to help you cook dinner, empty the dishwasher, or even for a hug. If your mental health is compromised, your child’s mental health will be compromised. Take care of yourself, too.
— Kaitlin Reuss Stabler, PA-C