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5 Late Summer Tips to Ease the Back-To-School Blues

Amid soaring rates of youth depression, anxiety and self-injury, therapists encourage families to use the month of August to get kids ready.

MINNEAPOLIS, August 1, 2023 – The “summer slide” isn’t just limited to the “three Rs”. Mental health also tops the list of stressors as parents and caregivers get kids ready to head back to school.

After the summer break, the typical routine and daily habits needed for school are rusty and need a tune up. Now’s the time to reset habits and ease the stress of those first week’s back to class.

“Those carefree days of summer can quickly turn to heated moments as we come off of two months of less structure, different sleep schedules and more independent play,” says Washburn Center Chief Clinical Officer Jenny Britton. “And, summer isn’t always all fun, while we watched kids relish those early days in June, many families find kids feel disconnected and adrift without school’s built-in social connection.”

So, now is the time to get kids to think about what is ahead. Using the remaining weeks of the summer, families can help prepare students early for the transition from home to school, and for longer days of engaging with teachers and peers in classrooms.

“It’s a really good idea for parents to do a check-in now, while there’s still plenty of runway before kids jump into the school routine,” Britton continues. “There’s no such thing as a perfect way to make the switch back from summer fun; finding your family’s own way through the coming weeks will help kids avoid ‘culture-shock’ and mentally prepare for what September brings.”

5 steps to take in the 5 weeks till school starts

1. Choose casual “together activities” and build time for connection. The activity and conversations do not have to be ground-breaking or deep. The act of chatting while cooking together or going on a walk gives kids a chance to share how they are feeling about heading back to school.

2. Gradually get back into the timing of the school routine. A big change every summer – for teens in particular – is their sleep schedule. Inconsistent sleep has a major effect on mental health, and the first weeks back to school can be doubly hard if a child is used to sleeping times that are later or longer. Work with kids to re-set their sleep schedule in increments. Even adjusting by 15-30 minutes per day over a few weeks can help – especially if it’s gentle and clear, they understand the upside and still get in their preferred summer activities before bed.

3. Change can create conflict—consistency soothes it. Whether a kid is starting a new grade or moving to a new school, they are heading into a massive adjustment period. Family life may be in flux until it settles into a routine – which can take up to a month.

Keeping other elements consistent is key – eat meals together around the same time, keep weekends predictable and stay tuned to make adjustments to whatever is setting off a child’s worry or fear.

4. Knowledge is power when it comes to school-year fear. Washburn Center therapists see many kids who are struggling with a new teacher, finding a friend group, or navigating a new school setting. The consistent theme? The perceived dangers of the unknown. If a child is showing signs of nerves about a new school year, step into a curiosity mode and see if you can find information that helps to build confidence in this new experience – maybe a map of the school, or a pre-semester phone call to get to know the teacher. Look to answer the 5W’s of the new school year together: who, what, when, where and why.

5. Model healthy habits. Kids watch adults for cues on how to act. When caregivers practice healthy wellness habits – breathing, taking a break or allowing do-overs for mistakes are great examples that kids are likely to follow. And importantly, if adults think that their child – or the adult themselves – may need professional support, it’s important to act quickly to begin that healing process with a therapist as early as possible.