As the summer ends, TV commercials and store displays repeatedly remind us that our students’ summer break is nearly over and the “Back to School” season is upon us. For parents, this means a hectic time of back-to-school shopping, new bus schedules, pick-ups, drop-offs, after school programs and evening homework help sessions. The school year can be quite a stressful time for parents as they look to maintain a work life balance within their home. We may not recognize, however, how the demands of this time can weigh heavily on students as well.

As we approach this new school year, it is important to regularly check-in with your child and recommend positive actions that support their mental, emotional, and physical health. Here are three key tips for helping your child as they navigate the new school year ahead:

Identifying Factors that are Impacting Mental & Emotional Health

Students are facing several factors that can derail their confidence and self-esteem throughout their adolescent and teenage years. Often, they are dealing with conflicts with themselves, within their personal relationships and with peers at school. They can also be experiencing academic struggles, such as adjusting to a new grade level, testing anxiety and future planning. Environmental factors such as the constant influence of social media, the pressure to engage in drugs and alcohol use, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and local and global violence, can greatly impact a student’s perception of themselves and the world around them.

The first step to supporting and providing perspective to your student is through conversation. Parents should be present and initiate discussions with their students regularly. By establishing routine conversation during dinner or other one on one time with each child, parents can bond with their student and are in a better position to recognize changes in their child’s mood or behavior, including signs of increased stress, isolation, irritability or aggression.

In addition, encouraging opportunities for self-expression and involvement in social, educational or athletic activities, can help connect students to positive role models and supportive environments. School counselors and nurses are great resources to direct your students to as these professionals can provide support and advice on navigating their situation. For parents that are interested in additional information on mental health programs, Firefly Children & Family Alliance, a nonprofit organization supporting Indiana families and children, is an excellent resource to explore.

Creating Stability Through a Daily Routine

After a few months out of school, it can be difficult for all members of the family to adjust to their new daily routine, and this can especially be difficult on younger children. To help minimize stress surrounding those first few days of school, look to establish your new wake up, bedtime and meal schedules in the week or two leading up to your child’s first day back. Parents can also look for opportunities to provide additional comfort and stability to their child by attending back to school functions where they can meet their teachers and locate their classroom or locker.

It can be particularly stressful for students making the transition from elementary to middle school and middle to high school. Children can often be nervous and hesitant as this is a new territory for them. In preparation for these bigger changes, establish open lines of communication with them surrounding their feelings of concern. Parents can use these conversations to reassure their child and focus on the exciting aspects of a new school and grade level.

Don’t Forget to Prioritize Physical Health

Staying up to date on your child’s vaccinations is key to minimizing the spread of illness within classrooms. Parents should speak with their child’s doctor to ensure they are caught up on all required immunizations. CareSource has partnered with the Indiana Immunization Coalition to help educate Hoosiers on the importance of receiving all recommended vaccinations and boosters. A key difference between this school year and last school year is that The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for children ages six months and up. Work with your child’s health care provider to determine when it is an appropriate time for them to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

Health plans, such as CareSource, understand how illness can spread throughout a family unit, disrupting parents’ ability to go to work and care for loved ones as well as children’s ability to attend school. This year, we can expect cold, flu and/or COVID-19 cases occurring within schools. One of the best ways to help ensure your child and those around them remain healthy is by prioritizing proper hygiene practices. Talk to your child about the importance of proper hand washing, utilizing hand sanitizer when soap and water is unavailable, blocking their cough or sneeze with a tissue or their arm, and staying home when feeling under the weather. Together we can make going back to school a positive experience for everyone!

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