Back to School Time Is No Time to Forget About Mental Health

By Beatrice Calvin, M.A. Counseling, CWWS, CDF

Although many of us are still experiencing extremely hot weather, school is now back in session for most students. I remember when my daughter was in elementary school. At the start of each new school year for her first couple of years, she would be anxious. Although she was excited to go back to school, she worried that she would not know anyone at school. I had to reassure her that although there would be some new students (like the children who moved into the neighborhood during the summer), her old friends would be there too. This underscores the idea that back-to-school time can produce mixed emotions for many. Whether it’s a child’s first day of kindergarten, a transition to middle or high school, or just the end of the freedoms of summer, the return to school can be a stressful time. It’s normal for children (and older students) to feel anxious about these changes.

Just as students can have conflicting emotions about the start of a school year, so can parents. It can be an exciting time ─getting the children back in school, meeting with new teachers, and establishing routines. It can also be a stressful time as you navigate childcare with work responsibilities. Parents should go easy on themselves and their children as you transition back to school time with your children.

It can be easy to get caught up in the commotion of preparing for school. However, it’s important to remember that school readiness isn’t just about having new clothes, new hairstyles, or the right supplies; it’s also about mental health. In all the flurry of activity in getting back to school we must remember the challenges of good mental health; that of our own and our students. This is a time when students may once again struggle with feelings of anxiety, depression, trying to fit in, etc. ─all the things that could negatively impact mental health. 

Parents should keep in mind that structure is key to helping children get off to a great start for the school year. Because regular schedules often go out the window during the summer, establishing routines will be critical. Having a set time to get up in the morning, do homework, eat dinner, collapse and relax, and prepare for bed will help children get into ‘a grove’ when it comes to daily routines. 

This time of year can also be exciting for library workers. It doesn’t matter if you work in a school, public, academic, or special library. Getting back to working with students and teachers and establishing new programming can be exhilarating. If you are both a parent and a library worker, you may feel pressure from both roles. Although library workers are not school counselors, you can play a role in helping students to thrive this school year. One of the best ways to help students is to create a safe space. Make sure the library is a welcoming space for all students. Every child deserves a nurturing school environment where they feel safe to explore and express their feelings. Make sure the library is a place where students feel comfortable reaching out about their mental health without fear of judgment. Have resources readily available for students if it appears that someone needs mental health assistance. Educate yourself so you know the signs of distress and what protocol to follow.

Note to Managers: Remember that many of your staff may be parents (or caregivers). They may be struggling at this time with parenting responsibilities as they attempt to manage work obligations. Give them a break. Don’t jump directly to disciplinary measures if someone seems to have difficulty meeting the demands of the job right now. Offer help, support, and resources. Ask how you can help (i.e., flexibility, schedule adjustments, etc.). They will appreciate your genuine concern and will probably be more willing to go above and beyond expectations when things are a bit calmer. 

Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 

Mental Health America

Kids’ Minds Matter

Tips from a Child Psychiatrist (and father of four)

How You Can Help Your Child Navigate Back-to-School Stress and Anxiety