Parenting Win of the Week: Back-to-School Conversations

Prepare for the new school year with these expert tips!

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Photo by: Tara Moore

Tara Moore

Ready or not, the back-to-school season is right around the corner for most. I’m not sure about you, but just when I am starting to relax and enjoy the lazier days of summer, I am thrust back into packing the calendar, remembering health forms, and securing school supplies in an effort to have everyone ready to go back to school. But one thing that I am trying to keep top of mind as both of my kids transition to new schools this year is making sure their mental health is prioritized. Yes, the right pens and notebooks are important, but at the end of the day, what’s most important is their well-being.

"Back to school has a natural tendency for everyone to be a little stressed and nervous," says Dr. Whitney Raglin Bignall. Dr. Raglin Bignali has her PhD in Clinical Psychology and is the On Our Sleeves Associate Clinical Director, an organization created by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus to provide expert resources around child mental health.

She talked with us on the importance of having conversations with your kids as the new year begins.

So Where Do We Begin?

It’s helpful to get ready a few weeks before going back to school. Establishing a time to have 1:1 conversations to see how everyone is doing and feeling. We have a mental health checklist that can help walk parents through various steps.

Routines are important to kids and we all know summer can be a little off routine. Getting back into a sleep routine is really important for kids and mental health, not just younger kids, but high schoolers too.

You’ll also want to work together on expectations for the year. Routines and habits they might want to start. Make it a collaborative process to decide what they need to put into place to make the school year successful.

Think About the New Things

Back to school sparks all kinds of changes. Whether your kids are going to a new building or a new bus stop it’s important to think and discuss what those things might look like.

It can be helpful to practice walking to the bus stop or talk through what they might be anticipating.

Make Connections

Yes, the start of the school year can feel daunting with all of the school events, but they are really important. It’s so important for caregivers to connect and form positive relationships with the school. This involves meeting the teacher, knowing the calendar, and participating in school events. Connect with other parents as well.

Acknowledge the Struggles

We know that a lot of kids struggled last year in school and it’s important to acknowledge it if last year was tough. Strategize ways you can work together to make it better and include the people in their sphere that should be involved, whether it’s a teacher, therapist, coach, etc.

Figure out a plan so you can get ahead of any needs.

Know that school is challenging for some, less challenging for others. We want these conversations to happen and prepare as much as we can.

Keep the Conversations Going

We want parents having conversations with their kids frequently, asking questions like what was your favorite part of today, what didn’t you like, etc.

If last year was a struggle, I'd want parents checking in a lot sooner than later.

If necessary, check in with the school as well. Note things that need to be addressed right away. For example, If we find that our kid is missing the bus everyday, we need to talk about it week one.

It’s also important for parents to note that these conversations aren’t kids getting in trouble, it’s about continuing to make things better and establish a good relationship with your kid. You don’t want them to hide things from you, instead you want to know how it’s realistically going and adjust the plan as needed.

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