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Supporting Your Anxious Student as They Return to the Classroom

by Jeremy McGeorge

Hoping to put educational disruptions behind them, many students (and parents) are thrilled that schools nationwide this fall are resuming learning in-person. And yet, this return to campus can be stressful too. Some students are setting foot on school grounds this fall for the first time since the pandemic began. Others are coping with how COVID has directly affected the health of financial stability of their families. Eighteen months can feel like a lifetime to a teen. So, as eager as most are to once again spend the bulk of their day with peers, the start of this school year means adjusting to new routines and carries extra weight from both apprehension and anticipation.

Even before the pandemic, mental health struggles in teens were on the rise. In a nationwide poll conducted last spring by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Detroit, 46 percent of parents said their teen has shown signs of a new or worsening mental health condition since March 2020. Roughly one-third of parents of teen girls and one-fifth of parents of teen boys reported seeing an increase in anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, the support services to help teens are straining to keep up with demand.

Here are strategies to support your teen as they transition to a new school year:

  • Engage your child in dialogue...but don’t force it. Acknowledge that it’s been a surreal year. Ask what your student is looking forward to about the new school year—and also what worries them.
  • Revisit daily routines. Throughout the pandemic, many families relaxed rules about screen time, social media, and other household expectations. Use the start of the school year to discuss and adjust boundaries as needed. Prioritize getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Talk about stress as a normal part of life. While people stayed close to home for public health reasons, some relied on withdrawal as a coping strategy for stress. Help your teen identify other strategies for managing difficult situations and bouncing back.
  • Practice self-awareness. Help your teen recognize a surge in feelings before they become overwhelmed. Encourage them to identify specific steps they can take to reduce anxiety in the moment. Taking a few deep breaths or excusing themselves for a quick trip to the restroom can be easy ways to get a quiet moment to reset their outlook, without drawing unwanted attention to their emotions.
  •  Reach out for help when needed. Mental health professionals have valuable expertise and experience in helping students reorient their perspective.

For many students, the most important thing right now is the opportunity to reengage. Most teens will respond positively to the routine, friends, teachers, and healthy challenges that are inherent in the school day. For others, however, underlying emotions will continue to interfere with life at school and home. In those situations, we at The Bertram Group are always available to help locate the therapeutic resources and educational programs to get your student back on the path to social-emotional wellness and academic success.

 

Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need nontraditional​ services as part of their educational plan. He can be reached at jeremy@thebertramgroup.com