Summer break and summer vacations were exciting, and now it is time to get ready for the new school year. Many parents are asking what can they do as the stress, anxiety, and depression from last school year has carried over for many children. The main stressors we are hearing about is anxiety around COVID-19 and kids’ academic performance. With the infection rates increasing, kids may be anxious about returning to the classroom. Hillside has some recommendations on how to deal with these stressors of going back to school. 

So, what can be done about these stressors? Depending on the age of the child, be open and honest. Let kids know that what they are feeling is normal. Talk to your children about the realities of COVID-19, and share your own concerns about the new variants that are spreading. Educate them on ways to prevent COVID-19, so they are not living in fear. It is normal if a child feels anxiety around going back to school. Talk to your child to identify the root causes of their anxiety and discuss ways to help eliminate those stressors. Maybe they want to wear an extra filter in their mask or have a bottle of hand sanitizer in their backpack. Last year, most kids were online for most of the school year and many felt overwhelming feelings of doubt and uncertainty. While some did ok academically, many were struggling and are feeling unprepared for this new school year. Helping a child cope ahead for this school year’s stressors can help eliminate the uncertainty and fear they may be feeling. Hillside recommends developing a set of coping skills, similar to those taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. 

Hillside utilizes DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) as its main treatment modality for clients. One DBT skill is the crisis intervention strategy we call (T.I.P.P.). This stands for Temperature Change, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation. These skills are helpful when an individual needs to regulate their emotions. Temperature change can be done at home by taking a cold or hot shower after a stressful day at school. Intense exercise, like a fast-paced walk or a quick sprint, can be an immediate way to calm a child and return them to their emotional baseline. Slow, paced breathing is helpful before, during, and after tests or exams and can be done right at their desk. Progressive muscle relaxation is best practiced with stretches like those done in yoga; there are many child-friendly yoga classes available online. A relaxation kit is also recommended and could be put in your child’s backpack to be used throughout the school day. These kits are essentially emotional regulation toolkits to help distract from any overwhelming feelings. It could include candy with an intense flavor (like fireballs), an ice pack for the face or hands (Temperature Change), or an image/picture of your child’s favorite place/person. 

It is a stressful time for us all. Developing healthy coping skills like those taught in DBT can help your child avoid an emotional crisis due to the stressors of going back to school. If you want more information about DBT or getting help, follow us on social media @HillsideATL or sign up for our newsletter for more tips about managing mental health at Hside.org

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