The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released back-to-school tips last month that will help parents — and their children — have smooth sailing through the first days of school — or if not smooth, at least easier.

Anxiety

It’s not unusual for some children to be nervous about school — either as new kindergartners, going to a new building for middle or high school, moving to a new district, or even just going back to their same school but with new teachers. Remind your child that other students are wondering what the first days will be like as well.

Definitely make sure your child attends any orientations. This is a good time to also tour the school before the first day, if it is a new school for your child.

Schools usually recommend that students take the bus for orientation — this is a good time to get to meet busmates and reduce extra anxiety on the first day. If your child walks to school, you may want to walk with him or her on the first day.

Bullying

Bullying is a particular problem for many children with developmental or mental disorders. It can be physical, verbal, or social, and can happen at school, on the playground, or on the school bus. In cyberbullying, one child picks on another over the internet or through mobile devices. And bullying can take place in your own neighborhood.

If your child is bullied:

  • Alert school officials to the problems and work with them on solutions.
  • Teach your child when and how to ask a trusted adult for help.
  • Recognize the serious nature of bullying and acknowledge your child’s feelings about being bullied.
  • Help your child learn how to respond by teaching your child how to: (1) look the bully in the eye, (2) stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation, and (3) walk away.
  • Teach your child how to say in a firm voice: (1) “I don’t like what you are doing,” (2) “Please do NOT talk to me like that” and (3) ”Why would you say that?”
  • Encourage your child to make friends with other children.
  • Support activities that interest your child.

You also need to make sure your child is not a bully himself or herself, by setting limits, being a positive role model, using effective nonphysical discipline such as loss of privileges, working with the school, and making sure your child knows that bullying is never okay.

If your child is a bystander to bullying behavior, encourage him or her to tell a trusted adult, and to support other children who may be bullied by including them in activities.

Special tips for teens

And here are some tips for back-to-school mental well-being for teens, from the suicide prevention coordinator for Massachusetts.

  • Good sleep habits. Getting plenty of rest and sleep is important not only for good grades and staying awake, but also for preventing depression and other mental health issues. Establish a reasonable bedtime routine for your teen and let them know that sleep is important.
  • Be available. Teens often appreciate being able to connect with you at the end of their school day, so try to be available either in person or on the phone when your teen gets home from school. Even if your budding adult complains, be persistent. You want to make connecting part of your routine. Walking or driving home together and having uninterrupted dinners provide other great opportunities to bond and communicate.
  • Stay connected. As kids get older, they often share less with parents/caregivers, but that doesn’t mean you should be less aware of how they’re feeling. Send encouraging texts or personal notes in their book bag to help reduce anxiety and let them know they are not alone at school, even if they may feel that way. Take time to listen and discuss experiences that may appear to be scary or challenging. Spend time each day talking to your teen about what happened in school. Give positive feedback about their new experiences.
  • Serve healthy food and encourage healthy eating. Food choices affect mood, ability to concentrate, and energy level — all key in your teen’s academic success and overall well-being. Providing healthy foods is important for your teen’s mental and physical health. Serve a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Encourage regular exercise. Physical activity is great for mental wellness and has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety. Experts believe that exercise releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. Regular exercise can also boost your teen’s self-esteem and help them concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Help your teen find types of exercise they enjoy, and try to be active together (if they’ll let you!).

Reinforce your teen’s ability to cope. Give your teen a few strategies to manage difficult situations on their own. Many teens find talking with a trusted friend, adult, or therapist; journaling; exercising; and listening to and/or playing music to be helpful ways of coping with stress.

And parents

Last but not least, parents need to take care of themselves when children go back to school. It’s not summertime any more. Everyone’s schedules may be more hectic: getting up early, getting ready for work while preparing breakfasts and lunches, worrying about grades, and getting everyone to their after-school activities, and having your own life as well. Wait, your own life? If you have a child with problems? Yes, it’s essential. As the saying goes, put on your own oxygen mask first, or you can’t help your children.

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