CMHA provides back-to-school advice for parents

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The start of the school year is a transitional period for children, parents and teachers, and with it can come feelings of stress and anxiety. 

While some thrive on the excitement and anticipation of September, others may struggle with new beginnings.

“A lot of people find back-to-school season challenging. You are not alone. Parents, teachers and children are carrying a heavy emotional load,” explains Krista Sibbilin, director of children’s services at the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHA WW). 

“While there is no answer for how September unfolds, recognize the opportunity you are being given at this moment. 

“Whether you are a parent, teacher or student, help each other navigate through emotions by listening, validating and helping to problem solve to ensure a successful transition.”

CMHA WW is offering  five recommendations for parents and teachers to help children and youth excel in the coming school year. 

1. One of the most powerful ways of supporting each other is trying to understand how everyone feels about it. Find the right time to ask questions to get a sense of what’s on their mind. Listening to what they are experiencing – and not criticizing – gives open space to talk about what’s going on or to ask questions they have about the school year.

2. Share that it’s normal to feel nervous about going back to school, or starting at a new school (this could be kindergarten, high school or even post-secondary). 

When you normalize the feeling, it makes it more manageable. 

You can listen to concerns and validate feelings without necessarily being able to solve the problem. 

We don’t need to have all the answers, all the time.

For a lot of people, resilience comes from having just one person in their corner who sees them and understands what they are going through. 

From there, you can start problem solving together by focusing on what is in your control to change.

3. Normalize the topic that summer is coming to an end and that school will be starting. 

This could be introduced through a countdown to the first day of school on a family calendar and/or gradually getting back into school year structure and routines, including meal and snack times similar to the school’s schedule. 

4. Set a bedtime (and/or wake up time), moving it closer to what it should be for the school year. 

Setting a screen curfew (a “downtime” after which point there are no screens) is also beneficial. 

Sleep is important for the overall mental health for everyone (children, youth and adults). 

5. Consider taking younger children to play at the school playground to become re-acquainted with the space and walk the route to school or the bus. 

It may be helpful for youth to visit their school as well. 

Prepare by creating a list, shopping and packing necessities, whether this is school supplies or things you will need when beginning post-secondary. 

Preparation helps with feelings of uncertainty. 

It is crucial to be aware of stressors as adults that may impact your children or youth returning to school. 

These can include loss of work or changes to work arrangements, or supporting and worrying about loved ones, or having a young adult leaving home for the first time. 

Being aware of the impact of stressors can help keep them in control and prevent passing stress onto others. 

While transitions can create short-term changes to emotions and behaviours, it is important to watch for major changes over time when it comes to mental health. 

Shifts in mental health are displayed through outbursts or excessive mood swings, worry leading to stomach and body aches, persistent nightmares and lack of sleep, an avoidance of formerly enjoyable activities, becoming unusually quiet or preoccupied, a change in appetite and a significant change in behaviour that is not readily explained.

For mental health and developmental services support for children up to six years old, call Here4Kids at 1-844-4KIDS-11 (454-3711). 

CMHA WW also offers a Children’s walk-in service every Tuesday from 10 to 3:30pm at the CMHA WW Office located at 485 Silvercreek Parkway North Unit 1 in Guelph. 

The walk-in service is an opportunity for a child or youth aged 6 to 17 years to see a mental health clinician, who will complete an assessment to determine the child, youth, and/or family’s needs.

If you live in Centre and North Wellington, you can continue to book single sessions through HERE 24/7 at 1-844-437-3247. 

If you are in crisis or need support for you or a loved one, call the Here 24/7 crisis line at 1-844-437-3247 (Here 247).