Summer — sunshine, fun, vacations, and no routine! Even though the reprieve from school year stress is wonderful for mental health, it can create challenges as parents and kids try to get back to the routine of the school schedule. As kids head back to school, schedules get tighter, stress can increase, all of which can lead to problems maintaining and promoting good mental health.
Here are some tips you and your family can use to promote a successful transition back into the school year:
- Sleep! During the summer months, kids are going to bed late, sleeping-in, and napping during the day. All of these things can skew sleep schedules and cause poor mood and irritability. With school starting in two short weeks (or less), it is critical to get sleep hygiene back on track. This will make the transition back to school easier and minimize the groaning and moaning from tired and irritable kids when their alarm goes off for their first day of school. ‘Sleep hygiene‘ includes using a set bedtime and wake time, a dark room (only used for sleeping), no electronics, comfortable temperature, and adequate calm, relax time prior to going to bed to prepare the body for sleep. 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.
- Nutrition! We’ve all seen the Snickers commercials – no one wants to be “hangry.” A healthy and regular diet can promote better focus, attention, and mood. Use high-fiber foods like oatmeal or whole grain bread in the morning to provide a steady supply of energy throughout the day. Lean meats and vegetables at lunch provide fiber and protein to keep your kiddo’s brain running at full-power for those tough afternoon classes! Avoid packaged and processed snacks and high-calorie, high-sugar treats, which cause a jolt of energy and a rapid crash. Sit down as a family at dinner, catch up with your kids, and enjoy a meal together – it’s good for everyone’s mental health.
- Screen time! This refers to the time spent using a device – computer, TV, gaming device. Too much or poor quality screen time has been linked to obesity, irregular sleep schedules (see #1), behavioral problems, loss of social skills, violence, and less time for physical play (mayoclinic.org). Prioritize “unplugged” playtime, create tech-free times (like at dinner or one night per week), cut off screen time one hour before bed, and parents – limit your OWN screen time to set an example for your kids.
- Get Active! Just because your kids 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 kids 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). Added bonus – it may improve your relationship with your kid.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Kids – if you’re struggling with that homework assignment, that teacher, that bully at school, or that tough 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 a hug. If your mental health is compromised, your kiddo’s mental health is compromised. Take care of yourself, too.