Back to School: “I’m Here for Your Mental Health, Too!”

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The end of August is upon us. ‘Tis the season for buying new backpacks, carefully checking off school supplies from your child’s list, and setting out new clothes in preparation for the first day of school. When the day arrives we look at their clean, ready to go faces and easily recognize that anticipation-filled, slightly nauseous, back-to-school feeling. Don’t puke, Johnny, it’ll be OK!

The “stuff” involved with back to school is, after all, super important. No one wants to be that kid who arrives on the first day lookin’ a fool. And yes, as parents, I would like to say that we really do a heck of a job nailing those long lists and getting the French braids just right.

 

But in light of some recent children mental health issues in the news, I would like to propose a new list we try out on our kids this year. The “I’m Here for Your Mental Health, Too” list of topics to touch on with your children as the new year kicks off.

Before I get into the 7 topics, I think it’s fair to point out the prevalence of mental health disorders among our nation’s young people.  Did you know that 17% of people under 18 in the U.S. will have a mental health disorder within a given year? That’s almost 1 in 5 kids. The median age of onset for anxiety disorder is 6 years, ADHD & behavior disorders is 11 years, and mood disorders is 13 years.back-to-school-teen

These issues are common, they can be confusing and scary for children and can feel overwhelming when added to an already demanding academic and social life. We need to be ready to identify mental illnesses early to give them their best shot at an expedient recovery, or help them learn successful long-term coping skills.

The goal of the 7 mental health topics list is to open a discussion. Get a feel for your child’s state of mind, where their enthusiasm shines, and just as importantly, where their silence speaks volumes. The result will be two-fold, your children will enjoy your attentive listening (even if they don’t admit it), and you’ll be quietly taking notes and paying attention for red-flags.back-to-school-girl

OK, ready then? The “I’m Here for Your Mental Health, Too” back-to-school discussion topics to have with your child:

  1. Relationships Who were your best friends last year? Do you think they’ll be your good friends again this year? Do you have any concerns about changing friendships this year?
  2. Self-Esteem How do you feel about your ability to do well in general this year?  How do you feel about your ability to be organized? Can you think of any tools or ways that would help you stay organized, prepared, and confident?
  3. Loneliness Do you have any classes or times in the day when you’re alone, or you feel alone? Is there anything you could do about this to make it seem less lonely?
  4. Performance How do you feel about your ability to do well this year academically? In sports? In clubs?
  5. Peers Do you feel like you get along with most of the other people at your school? Do ever wonder if you “rub someone the wrong way?” Is there anyone in particular that rubs you the wrong way? How do you act on these feelings?
  6. Eating Patterns What is lunch like? Do you eat your lunch in assigned seats? Do you usually eat all of it, or are you distracted and not hungry?
  7. Anxiety Do you ever feel nervous or anxious during your day? Is it tied to a certain person, place, or class – or does the feeling hang around all day?

That’s it. How did it go? If anything stands out as a concern for you during your conversation be sure to follow up with a trusted mental health professional. The Children’s Mental Health Network is a great starting point. If you did not notice anything worrisome? That’s great! But be sure to ask again… in a few months.

Let’s lay a foundation of approachability, genuine interest, and love for our kids who are facing the mental challenges of starting a new year of performances. Let’s show them that we’re here for them for more than just new shoes and shiny pencil boxes. If, as parents, we can master truly listening to the concerns and fears of our children early in the year when everything is fresh and full of promise, we are that much more likely to be trusted allies when a mental health issue does crop up!

 

Faye Bonomo
Faye Bonomo has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Science and an MBA from Colorado State university. She spent several years pursuing the western medicine approach to wellness, but found it came up short in some areas. Faye now promotes a balanced approach to personal wellness – one that seeks to balance a body’s biochemistry AND a body’s natural flow of life-force energy. She is the founder of AcuThrive.

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