How to check in with your child’s mental health
School has been back a while now and you probably did a lot to prepare your child for their return to school or new start by supporting them with any anxieties, making sure they were organised and knew what to expect.
But how are they coping now and what can you do to continue to support their emotional wellbeing as the school year progresses?
Check in with your child to see how they are coping
Rather than looking for clues that your child is okay (or not), try just directly asking them. Make sure you do this though when you have time to really listen to their answer and can ensure they have the space and the privacy to be open.
If you ask a closed question like ‘Are things okay at school?’ you may well get a one-word answer. A more open conversion starter such as ‘Tell me about school this term’ or ‘How are you feeling about school this week’ will invite a more detailed response.
If you share how you feel about work and share the challenges as well as the triumphs, then honesty becomes normalised. Role modelling openness to your child will encourage them not to bottle things up and pretend everything is positive and ‘fine’.
If they are struggling, there are many things you can do to help.
Daylight and exercise
Daylight and exercise are both excellent mood boosters but don’t always go hand in hand with back to school, especially in the winter months.
If you drive your child to school or they get the bus, you might consider making some changes. Could you drive part way and encourage them to walk the rest? Could you switch the bus for a bike ride or walk the route a couple of times a week? And after school could you go via the park?
Ensure weekends include time outdoors, time in nature and plenty of movement to balance all that indoor classroom time. All of these have been found to reduce anxiety and relieve stress.
Keeping anxiety minimised
Your child may struggle with anxiety in relation to school regarding schoolwork, friendships, time management and /or organisation.
Some of the things you can do to support them include:
- Developing a great routine around school mornings so they are always ready in plenty of time. Help them pack bags, prep uniform, kit, cookery items and all they will need the night before.
- Ensuring they have a visible timetable so know in advance regarding tests, when homework is due in, PE days, school performances etc and can get prepared.
- Providing them with a clear space to do homework and having the tools they need to hand (glue, felt tips, ruler, etc).
- Inviting school friends back for tea and getting to know them. Do encourage your child to be a good friend by remembering friends’ birthdays or checking in with them if they are off poorly.
Talk to their teacher if there are ongoing friendship issues so they can support your child to resolve them or change groups or seating if required.
- Have a clear homework time and if they have exams looming, help them develop a revision timetable with free time slotted too to avoid overwhelm.
It might sound like a lot of effort to put all these strategies in place, but once established all these stress reducers will become habitual and can be super effective at minimising anxiety.
If you child isn’t coping
If your child isn’t coping and your attempts to de-stress them have been in vain, do not wait for a crisis to occur before asking for help. All schools offer pastoral care and will be able to provide or signpost you towards available support.
Your child may simply need some extra tutoring, or they may need counselling. Perhaps they need to change form – whatever the issues, asking for help for support from their school will be welcomed. They want to see your child flourish just as you do.
You can also talk to your GP.
Things to consider
- Sometimes kids feel stressed when they are tired. Check they are getting the sleep they need, and they are not overdoing screen time before bed. Reading fiction is a brilliant alternative and has been found to reduce stress levels by up to 68% after just 6 minutes!
- Check your child has enough balance in their life. Are they doing activity after activity? Free time is important for minds and bodies to relax.
- Does your child feel pressured to succeed? Remind them success takes many forms in life and their best is good enough. Praise effort more than results.
- We all get stressed sometimes and teaching a child to manage their own stress is an important life skill. Does your child have these skills in place?
Books that can help
If your child needs to learn more about how to manage their worries, then check out Create Your Own Calm which is packed with ideas to help kids manage when big feelings threaten to overwhelm them. It contains ideas such as making a calm down kit, visualisation, grounding, and positive affirmations to help your child feel back in control and more relaxed.
If they are struggling with low mood, then Create Your Own Happy is a great activity book for them and will teach them ways to boost their happiness and spread it too
Create Your Own Kindness contains a range of activities designed to show kids how being kind to themselves when times are tough really can make all the difference.
For teens, Be Happy Be You is a wonderful guide to boosting happiness and minimising anxiety. It looks at mindfulness, healthy relationships, studying, loss, inclusion, divorce and more.
We help kids with their academic learning all the time. Guiding them with their emotional and mental health is even more important.
If you are concerned about your child’s emotional health beyond the scope of this article and they are showing signs of excessive worry, frequent outbursts of anger or irritability and a consistent reluctance to attend school and low mood, do seek professional support.
Award-winning blogger and author of Create Your Own Happy, Create Your Own Calm and Create Your Own Kindness, Becky Goddard-Hill is a children's therapist and former social worker and child development trainer. She also holds a postgraduate diploma in Psychotherapy and is a certified life coach. A Year of Nature Craft and Play is her newest book.