As parents and children transition back to school, finding ways to ease anxiety and support kids’ mental health is more important than ever. And the concerns are valid: many children are experiencing mental health crises. The normal ups and downs of childhood and adolescence, combined with safety concerns, environmental changes, family financial security, social media issues and more can make for an extremely difficult situation.

Staying connected, modeling healthy behavior and keeping the lines of communication open are just a few ways to support and nurture our children’s mental health.

Encouraging positive mental health habits and acknowledging the various feelings kids experience during this transition — such as nervousness, anxiety, overwhelm, excitement and more — is the first step to help them have a successful school year.

  1. Give children the freedom to be open and honest with their feelings. Using the mirroring technique, where parents pay close attention to how their child is acting and feeling and acting accordingly, is a great way to give children the space to share. Depending on the child’s age, it may be helpful to engage them in creative activities, like playing and drawing, which can be a low key way to help them express any difficult feelings.
  2. Model healthy behavior. Being open and honest with your own feelings and struggles, in an age-appropriate way, can give children guidance on how to talk about their own feelings. Stress is normal during this busy season, so saying that you’re feeling stressed can help build trust and allow kids to feel safe to turn to you when they need support. Remind them that emotions fluctuate, and it’s normal and absolutely okay not to be okay all the time.
  3. Listen and ask open-ended questions. Try listening more than talking, as your child likely has lots to share. Paying close attention to children’s verbal and nonverbal cues can give important insight into what your child is experiencing. Ask about both the good and the bad. Responding with empathetic questions and giving advice as needed will build a bridge and open a line of communication.
  4. Encourage healthy habits. A healthy mind requires a healthy body, so prioritizing getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising can really make a difference in your child’s mental state. And remember, you’re modeling behaviors, so seeing you coping with the stresses that can come with back-to-school in a healthy way can help teach your child to do the same. Try healthy habits like exercising regularly, eating healthy and practicing relaxation techniques to help you take care of your mental health and set a positive example for your children.
  5. Protect their energy, and yours, too. Keep in mind that our energy can be affected in positive and negative ways, and this influences how we react and respond to certain situations. Protecting your child’s energy is especially important during potentially stressful times. There are many ways to nourish energy and deplete energy, and if you cultivate more energy-giving habits, it will lead to a healthier and happier vibe.
  6. Give love and care. Sometimes a simple hug showing your love can make all the difference. Try making their favorite treat or scheduling in some special time together. Humans thrive on connection, and unconditional love is a gift that can give your child confidence and self-assurance.
  7. Tell them you’re proud. You can help your children build their self-esteem by praising them for their accomplishments, giving them responsibilities, teaching resilience and recognizing and celebrating their achievements. Encourage them to try again when they fail and let them know that you are behind them, cheering them on.
As kids head back to school, they need to be equipped with the mental health tools and habits that will help them be their best, strongest and happiest selves. Good mental health habits are essential to children of any age, and as parents and teachers, we have the power to model healthy behavior and encourage our children to strengthen their foundation and lean on us for support.

Back to School: 7 Ways to Support Children’s Mental Health