By Abby Betz, LSW – August 20, 2020 –

It’s the time of year (again) that most of us look forward to and some of us dread—back-to-school!  It can be difficult for children to make the transition from the carefree, fun days of summer to the everyday grind of school life, especially when students have not been in school buildings for many months due to a worldwide pandemic. 

Transition is a common occurrence for young people, and most do adjust well—but there are some who find themselves unable to appropriately adapt to seasonal and other life changes. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children. When anxiety begins to cause physical and emotional distress, parents and guardians can respond by employing some simple yet effective coping strategies to help alleviate fears and create a framework for a successful start to the school year.

Here are some general tips:

  • Develop a routine or schedule. Even just a few repeated actions, like going to bed at a regular time, can have a calming effect.
  • Make sure your child is getting plenty of rest and maintains a well-balanced diet.
  • Encourage your child to express their fears or worries with you; continue to remind your child that it is normal to have concerns.
  • Avoid giving your child reassurance (i.e., “Don’t worry about it so much! Everything will be just fine!”); instead, encourage your child to problem-solve and make a plan to act on specific fears.
  • Role-play different scenarios with your child so he/she will know how to respond when placed in uncomfortable situations.
  • Model appropriate responses and focus on developing healthy coping skills for yourself.
  • Focus on the positive rather than dwelling on negative thoughts/feelings; try to replace negative emotions with something positive.
  • Praise your child and reward them for efforts at positive behavior.

There may be times when your child is in need of more extensive services to help them cope with anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 80% of children with diagnosable anxiety disorders do not seek out or receive treatment. 

Moreover, research has shown that untreated children are at higher risk of performing poorly in school, engaging in substance abuse, and isolating themselves from peers and other social situations.  As a parent or guardian, it is important to heed the warning signs of anxiety that may cause abnormal physical and emotional distress and seek out the proper treatment for your child.

By Jillian Moon, LCSW – August 12, 2020 –

My first day of high school was intimidating. I knew almost no one and my role in the school felt undefined. Would the teachers think I was good enough? Would the students like me? Would I be involved enough, or visible enough? Would I be too involved, too visible?

In the hallway stampedes between classes, everyone seemed to know exactly where they were going except me. And where were Molly Ringwald and Zac Ephron to start up the choreographed dances in the lunch room?

I suppose I should point out this was my first day as a high school social worker. At the ripe age of 31, I’d finished high school, college, and graduate school. Yet walking in those big school doors, I still felt overwhelmed by change and the very human need to find where I fit in a new social system.

As a parent, you can do a lot to ease these kinds of fears and help your kids enjoy the amazing opportunities high school has to offer them. Here are a few ideas from familyeducation.com:

  • Encourage your child to follow their own interests as opposed to following a clique. Focus first on finding the activity or sport that gives them genuine fulfillment—friends with whom they can have supportive and lasting relationships are then much more likely to be found.

  • Avoid sarcastic remarks about your child’s appearance. If you feel tempted to make those comments, keep a stack of your own high school pictures handy to share with your child! Not only will it take you back to a place of understanding the need to fit in, it will help you build an even stronger relationship when they see you were in their shoes once, too. (Literally, their shoes. The 90’s are back.)

  • Help your teenager understand that no one thing in their life is the “end-all-be-all” for their future. College and post-secondary program acceptance, for example, is based on many factors. Encourage personal challenges over easy grades while they capitalize on their strengths, whether they be academic, athletic, or community involvement. Praise their effort and improvement over one-time highs and lows.

Last but not least: make time to listen. Teenagers face the difficult task of finding their place with peers outside of family and setting the stage for their lives as adults. Non-critical listening tells them you can be trusted and you are an ally on their team. Always remember that while your child may not remember the advice you give, they will always remember how you made them feel in moments of need.

By Staci Chambers, MSW – August 4, 2020 –

“Why are we moving to a new house?” “Why did one of my parents move away?” “Why are things so different at school?” “When can I see Grandma?” “How will I make new friends?” “What happens after we die?”

Change happens in every life. Whether it’s a change we can anticipate—like entering middle school or starting a job we’ve been hired for, or a change we didn’t see coming—like a death in the family or COVID-19, change is always a challenge. As adults, we have learned how to rationalize and process those major life-changing events. But children have a less-developed mindset, and they need help navigating change.

You may have heard the saying, “You can’t control the winds, but you can adjust the sails.” As more experienced sailors in the sea changes of life, parents and other adults can offer instruction, attention and care to our kids as they to cope with change.

Here are some specific coping strategies:

  • Talk with your child and acknowledge that it is normal for them to be experiencing a variety of emotions regarding the recent changes. Car rides, meal times, and bedtime are often good moments to initiate conversation.

  • Allow them to participate in some small decision-making within the family. This allows them to feel they have some control over things in their life. You may even encourage them to choose new rituals or traditions for your family to practice together.

  • Be consistent in new daily routines. (If you don’t have a daily routine, create one!) Structure throughout their day allows a child to feel more secure and safe. Even just a few set elements of routine can create calm and trust.

  • Stay positive regarding the recent changes. Even though change is sometimes initiated by negative circumstances, it is important to try to focus on the positive aspects. In the morning over breakfast and at night before bed, help your child think of three positive things they are grateful for.
  • Be patient with them. Allow them the time they need to adjust to the changes.

There are a lot of benefits that can come with navigating change. It is just a matter of finding an appropriate way of coping with the stressors that accompany the transition. Being a loving, attentive source of support for your child is the best thing you can do to help them successfully “adjust the sails”—and you may even find that it strengthens your family as a whole.

By Youth First, Inc. – Aug. 3, 2020 –

Back-to-school shopping is underway, with face masks and hand sanitizer added to the list of supplies this year. Youth First wants to ensure that kids are also socially and emotionally ready to begin the school year. Here are our top 10 tips for mental health success.

  1. Model calmness. Children will take on stress and anxiety from adults around, them so make sure to work on your own feelings and fears about a return to school. Parents are the original co-regulators, the first teachers of how to manage emotions. Whether we are in school buildings or not, there are fears about returning. If the parent sets a positive tone the child will follow.
  2. Talk to your child about safety in a way they can understand. Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age. Let them know this isn’t going to last forever but for now there are rules we have to follow. As is often said, “This too shall pass.”
  3. Set a structured daily schedule, especially in the weeks leading up to school. Have a wake-up time and bedtime that are age appropriate for your child. (Most experts recommend 8-10 hours of sleep each night.) Part of the reason teens need more sleep is because of rapid development of body and brain.
  4. Limit screen time and social media exposure, especially in the weeks leading up to school. If screen time has been high, this may initially cause behavioral issues and withdrawal. Hang in there with the limits and your child will make the adjustment. Always have your child’s phone charging in your bedroom overnight to prevent late night access.
  5. Plan family meal time without any electronics, whether it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or a more formal meal for dinner.
  6. Stay up-to-date with your child’s school on changes and precautions they will be taking. Discuss those procedures with your child and help them practice if new rules are introduced. Let your child know that these changes are the school’s way of being proactive to keep everyone healthy.
  7. Discuss clear expectations you have for your child when they return to school (behavior, safety compliance, and academics).
  8. Model and discuss positive ways for your child to express his or her feelings. If they are younger, videos and books are a great way to explain complex feelings. Give your child life examples of when you have been scared, frustrated, or excited and how you dealt with those feelings.
  9. Practice calming techniques with your child in the weeks leading up to school (breathing techniques, mindfulness, taking a time out). Make sure they are helpful and age appropriate.  Check out bubble breathing, finger breathing and other techniques on Youth First’s website at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterial.  Repeated practice is helpful for younger kids.
  10. And last but not least, show enthusiasm for the first day of school! Remind students of the joy of learning and seeing friends and beloved teachers. Whether they are walking into a school building or walking to the kitchen table, they should be prepared and excited to start school.

It’s certainly normal that all parents and students have some apprehension about returning to school this year. However, being prepared and informed helps reduce stress and anxiety. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your kids.