Hinsdale Fall Fest | importance of mental health care in school

Fall 2023 Parents/Children Back-To-School: Mental Health Is Key

Parents/Children Preparing For Fall 2023 Back To School: Mental Health is Paramount

There are so many emotions that collectively arise for all children and  parents/caregivers as the start of the school year quickly approaches. After working through, maybe, numerous cycles of emotions such as disbelief, overwhelm, dread, and denial and grief of summer reaching a half-way point, we must construct an approach of implementing consistent daily rhythms and routines to help ease – [fingers-crossed] -the transition back into school, especially since routines and rhythms have dissipated due to the excitement of *summer vibes*.


My hope for all this summer, and especially for children, is that everyone has opportunities to experience: significant time outdoors; creating fun, positive memories with family and friends; and, have the chance to have a “change of scenery”. Rest assured that the summer fun can most definitely continue; but, now is the optimal time to begin family conversations and planning about the upcoming school year. Having these forecasting discussions as families, and parent/caregiver-child dyads, sets-up a child and family for the potential for the smoothest possible transition back to school, and research supports this notion. 


A study by Puccioni, Froiland, + Moeyaert (2020), found that parental/caregiver home-based readiness involvement was predictive of school readiness measures. More specifically, these researchers found that parents that possess the understanding of the benefits that do come from engaging with their children as a supporter towards their children’s school readiness was “positively associated with children’s academic achievement and prosocial behaviors and negatively associated with conduct problems and hyperactivity/inattention” (Puccioni, Froiland, & Moeyaert, 2020). 


These findings are not only powerfully significant, but they also provide compelling evidence and guidance for caregivers needing to embody an effective approach when supporting children on school-readiness. 


I want to emphasize that feelings of readiness/preparedness begins with parents first spearheading social-emotional conversations, before bringing attention to the review packets, reading logs, or anything else that comes to mind with the process of academic preparation. The first step of the transition back to school, that absolutely precedes academic preparedness, is emotional/psychological security and readiness


Additionally, Waters, Lester, & Cross (2014) found that the most effective and stable influence for a positive transition is the presence of families before and after school, and the presence/perception of peer support. The phenomena that contribute to feeling emotionally ready, and then feeling academically ready by extension of the emotional piece, includes consistency across the board and planning ahead for these systems to work effectively to reach the above goals. 


A child feeling emotionally secure where they are at in this moment is a huge factor relating to caregiver attunement and attachment, which is why parents/caregivers need to do the emotional work with themselves on regulation in order for them to provide effective co-regulation and communication with their child, which is the foundation of an effective and sustainable school transition plan


To support any-aged child’s transition back to school, whether the transition is into Kindergarten or College, following these steps will give the best chance for both an emotionally and academically successful transition for them – thus confirming that emotions cannot be ignored during this process, and it is the first step to academic success. The following steps integrate the above research combined with what I see as child-family needs based on 10 years of clinical practice:

  1. Ensuring caregiver-child’s attachment, communication, and attunement is effective, secure, and collaborative. 
  2. Begin mid-summer with re-establishing consistent morning and evening routines – and bedtimes. 
  3. Re-establish consistent boundaries and expectations with devices. 
  4. Re-establish/create a sustainable mental health plan.
    b. Caregiver-specific.
    c. And caregiver-child specific, when needed.
Two children playing wth toys in a room. Therapeutic Play for children.
Mental Health Awareness For Children

Consistent Morning + Evening Routines [bedtimes]:

Summertime means sleeping in and staying up late, hopefully with some great memories being made with friends and family. At this point in the summer, I would recommend getting children back into a morning routine and rhythm, as well as an evening routine and rhythm that is more in alignment with school timing. Yes, this might come with some resistance and [hopefully minimal] frustrations, but starting this transition now will provide a helpful framework to begin re-establishing expectations and familiarity with school timing. 


Rather than just diving right in, I strongly recommend that caregivers conduct a family meeting [and ongoing ones] to discuss how the summer has been going, the importance of re-establishing these routines/rhythms, and discussing the expectations with timing mimicking the school schedule to assist with the process of the family grasping why there is a shift occurring. 


If these initial family meetings feel challenging, do not become disheartened; the initial attempts matter greatly, even if your audience is disengaged and disinterested. Even if you are met with protest, they are still beginning to process the transition back, which is a helpful beginning step; from there, caregivers can plan to consistently check back in. Discussing upcoming transitions and what to expect, which I refer to as “forecasting”, is a wonderfully helpful approach to take with children – and, honestly, any-aged human. Parents/caregivers that take the time to explain, and narrate, the current lived experiences of the family provides a healing clarity for every family member. 

Consistent Boundaries + Expectations w/ Devices:

As much as we mentally anticipate the potential protests and resistance that will most likely come with adjusting exposures to electronic devices…please know that the cumulation of adjustments occurring overall with the back-to-school transition plan will inevitably cause screen time to adjust in a more desirable direction. It is understandable if this part causes any parent/caregiver to *wince* while imagining what might transgress when this is broached. 

Parents and caregivers, if this category is causing much contention and difficulty, please know that you are never alone in this endeavor, and mental health professionals like myself assist families with this process all the time. To assist in this process, I have created a downloadable PDF on our website to support caregivers/families on re-authorizing relationships with electronic devices, we call it the “Screen Time Contract”. Visit this link to get your copy (scroll down to where you see the button to download under “Downloadable PDFs for Therapeutic Support”).

Plan To Integrate Consistent Opportunities For Mental Health Maintenance:

Now is a great time for parents/caregivers to set transitional-specific expectations and school-specific expectations while planning ahead to ensure stillness and unstructured time are intentionally and deliberately integrated into the day-to-day even during the school year. Ensuring there are moments of stillness helps normalize and model the importance of giving consideration to a huge component of our health: our mental health care


To protect the hard work that is going into this process, we all need to work hard on protecting peace and advocating for still, unstructured, quiet times to exist in between busy schedules during the school year. A mental health professional can help guide families on the overarching goals we are discussing here: secure connections, open collaboration and communication, leaning into hard conversations, and planning ahead for not only the next upcoming events but also for transitions – planning steps of the transition itself. 


We were never meant to parent alone, and my team and myself are easily accessible for parents and children that need this support. Our team at Authentic Growth Wellness Group [in Hinsdale/Glen Ellyn/telehealth] takes time to assess the fit, and we will even recommend other wonderful local mental health professionals and practices. Parents/caregivers are going through unique, unprecedented times with electronic devices, social pressures, and regional norms and pressures, and we cannot get through these uniquely difficult times without compassionate, collaborative support of our own. As a parent myself, I am right in there with you all. No one is immune to struggle, even the struggle that is inevitably a part of the transitioning back to school process.