5 Back-to-School Children’s Mental Health Tips | SSM Health Matters Blog

Summer always seems to fly by. The school year ends, and in the blink of an eye, it’s time to replenish your child’s inventory of mechanical pencils, folders, and loose-leaf paper. Back-to-school season is also a great time to take inventory of your child’s mental health.

Here are 5 tips to consider as your children get ready to head back into the classroom this fall.

  1. Anticipate a change in sleep schedule: Many kids experience a sleep phase shift during the summer: They go to bed later and they wake up later. Sometimes the circadian rhythm shifts by 2-3 hours or more. Kids may also be taking daytime naps in the summer. A sudden change in daily routine can disrupt a child’s equilibrium and potentially exacerbate their mood, anxiety, and behavioral symptoms. I recommend initiating a gradual return to the “school sleep schedule” starting at least 3-4 weeks before the first bell rings in fall.

  2. Reevaluate their meds: If your child takes psychiatric medications such as stimulants for ADHD or SSRIs for depression/anxiety, this would be a good time to connect with their prescribing clinician to examine the medication regimen. As kids grow, they often need different doses of medications. If your child takes a summer holiday from their ADHD meds, make a plan for resuming the meds when school starts. I recommend scheduling an appointment to review the entire med list and determine if some medications can be gradually decreased or discontinued, or if new ones may be needed. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to make changes in the weeks leading up to school, so that you can watch for side effects before homework and other school stressors begin to cloud things. In other cases, it can be useful to have a few weeks of “data” once school starts before having your appointment.

  3. Discuss social situations: Has your child’s friend group changed over the summer? Will they be in a new class? Has there been online bullying or ghosting? Although many kids (especially teenagers) will be reluctant to discuss their social lives with the adults in their lives, it can never hurt to ask or at least offer support. They may end up sharing important information with you. Another option would be to direct them to a psychotherapist who may be able to help process stressors related to your child’s ever-changing social life.

  4. Contact and coordinate with school staff as needed: Does your child work with the school counselor, or does s/he need to start working with them? Is there an IEP or 504 plan that needs to be reviewed? Do you need to give new teachers any heads-ups about your child’s behavioral habits or emotional/cognitive needs? I recommend reaching out and at least introducing yourself/your child to their future teachers, who will become such important parts of your child’s life over the coming year.

  5. Ensure smooth transitions to new schools: Is your child starting middle school or high school? Have you moved homes or have they changed schools for any other reason? Similar to what I wrote in Tip #4, it makes sense to be proactive and reach out to any relevant individuals before your child arrives at school. You may even want to drive by and give your child a tour of the outside or inside of the new school. Staff may be willing to offer an orientation if you ask for it. Your child may feel more comfortable if s/he has had a chance to walk through the hallways, knows where the gym and cafeteria and restrooms are located, etc.

Above all else, be sure to spend some quality time with your kids, remind them how amazing they are, and take a moment to tell them that you love them, you believe in them, and you’re there for them.


Aish Barbara

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