Mental Health

You’ve Got This: How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health During School Transitions

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Big changes can be hard for anyone, no matter their age. And for school-age kids, while the adjustments that come with learning and growing bring excitement and joy, they can also be mentally taxing — sometimes even distressing, depending on each unique child.

Every school transition your child goes through, whether that’s promotion to the next grade or starting fresh at a new school, is a monumental life event from a kid’s perspective. They might experience overwhelming thoughts, feelings and ideas as they mentally prepare for this next big milestone.

Being aware of how these normal yet weighty transitions can impact your child’s mental health will help you better identify with what they’re going through. And opening the floor for important conversations leading into this next school year will allow them to process their emotions and feel understood and supported.

Keep reading to learn more about how school transitions affect kids’ mental health and how you can help your child through the changes.

How School Transitions Affect Kids’ Mental Health

Here are some of the most common ways school transitions can impact your child’s mental health:

  • Stress and anxiety: Changes in routine, new teachers and social circles can be stressful and worrisome for children
  • Loss of social connection: Leaving behind friends and familiar faces and meeting new ones can be tough, bringing about feelings of loneliness, isolation and peer pressure to fit in
  • Academic challenges: Adjusting to new expectations, teachers and curriculum can lead to frustration and a dip in self-esteem

How Pre-Existing Mental Health Conditions Can Impact Transitions

Children with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, autism or ADHD, to name a few, may experience transitions as even more challenging than those who don’t have these added struggles.

Anxiety

Children with anxiety disorders may experience heightened anxiety during transitions, leading to worries and physical symptoms that weren’t there before.

Depression

Depression can make it harder to cope with the loss of familiar routines and social connections, leading to feelings of isolation and motivation to adjust. Depression can also cause physical symptoms like aches and pains, fatigue and sleeping difficulties.

Autism

Children on the autism spectrum can have an extra hard time adjusting to big transitions. Along with extra social challenges that come with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they may become agitated and overly stressed when their familiar routine is changed.

ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make it difficult to manage the change in structure and expectations that come with a new school or environment, leading to frustration and potentially worsening symptoms.

Support Makes a Difference

Schools and families that provide support and structure during transitions can help children adjust more smoothly. Successfully navigating transitions can even help children build resilience for future challenges.

Here are some suggestions for supporting children throughout a big transition:

Before the Transition

  • Open communication: Have a conversation with your child about the upcoming transition, acknowledging their fears and anxieties and validating their feelings
  • Maintain routines: As much as possible, stick to familiar routines during the summer leading up to the transition to provide a sense of stability
  • Prepare for the new environment: If possible, visit the new classroom or school beforehand; meet teachers, familiarize yourself with the layout and discuss any specific needs your child may have
  • Connect with your school: Talk to the school counselor, teachers and any relevant support staff about your child’s condition and any accommodations they might need, such as extra time for tests or a quiet space to manage anxiety
  • Support groups: Connect with groups in your situation on social media or in person; you may learn something new that can help or have luck connecting with other parents for the new school or community through local social groups
  • Utilize mental health resources: Connect with one of our Mental Health Navigators for personalized support at no cost to your family

During the Transition

  • Stay connected: Maintain regular communication with your child about their experience. Encourage them to express their feelings freely, either through conversation or possibly journaling
  • Develop coping skills: Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness exercises that your child can use to manage stress. There are lots of resources on social media
  • Celebrate small wins: Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s successes during the transition, no matter how small
  • Maintain support systems: Ensure your child continues to receive any necessary therapy or medication during the transition

Remember that every child is unique, so the best approach for your family may vary. Working collaboratively with your child, their therapist and their school can create a smooth transition and set them up for success in their new environment.

Here to Help Your Family Through the Changes

As the proverb reminds us, the only constant in life is change itself. School transitions are normal and expected, but they can be emotionally challenging to navigate. By being aware of the potential impact on children’s mental health, parents, teachers and caregivers can work together to support our kids during all their transitions.

To learn more or get connected, visit BeAMindleader.com.

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