Featured Mental health

My teen has anxiety — how can I help them through the back-to-school transition?

preteen at school
Monica Matys
Written by Monica Matys

This can be a very exciting, and terrifying, time of year for kids of all ages. The return to school and pressure that a new academic year brings can seriously impact daily functioning and quality of life. It can also add an additional element to consider if your child is living with a mental health condition. Experts from Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project offer some approaches to ease the transition back into the classroom.

Start with the basics

Adequate sleep, good nutrition and regular physical activity should all be part of your child’s day. It’s not unusual for things to slide during the summer in terms of nutrition and maintaining bedtimes, so keeping these factors on track in September and beyond is essential.

Listen

Provide an environment where your child can approach you with their concerns in an open and non-judgmental way. Having your child keep a journal may help them track stressful triggers and other exacerbating factors, like certain foods. Journaling may also help them express their feelings and strategies they find helpful.

Recognize red flags

Anxiety can trigger changes in appetite, mood and sleep. Other signs of distress can include nail biting, hair pulling, skin picking, headaches, stomach pains and social isolation. If you notice unusual shifts in behaviour and mood that persist, it may be a good idea to seek some professional guidance for your child.

Have a plan

Work through the scenarios causing stress and problem solve each step. This type of role-play can encourage communication, and may offer up some perspective and possible ways forward. Planning an activity to help deal with stress — like taking a walk — or a reward when it’s done — like going to a movie — can also be helpful. If your child requires treatment or counselling from a medical professional, understand your role in continuing appropriate supports at home.

Think positive

There can be many good things about returning to school, which can be easily overshadowed by lingering concerns. Encourage your child to maintain a balance by also focusing on these positive aspects.

Bank extra time

Mornings can be especially busy and stressful. To avoid starting the day on the wrong foot, encourage your child to complete assignments the night before. Preparing lunches and laying out outfits in advance can also help mornings unfold smoothly for both parents and kids.

Reach for Helpful Resources

Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project provides expert navigation of the mental health and addictions service system for youth aged 13-26 and their families living in the GTA.

Experts from Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project also recommend the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

The AnxietyBC website also has some helpful tips.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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