A Mental Health Checklist For the Start of School

As parents work through their lists to make sure their children have everything needed for a new school year, one more item would be worth adding: “How is their mental health?”

As they move from summer break to school days, children are shifted into stress-filled situations and environments that will require some adjusting in order to do well in school.

Likewise, whether a child begins assuming more responsibilities at home, becomes more independent at school, or decides important character issues with friends, an increase in the levels of stress can be expected for everyone involved- -including the parents. However, this time could also provide a good opportunity for preparing the son or daughter to handle future stress.

Parents may be surprised with how the operations of our local schools have progressed in twenty-plus years. Nevertheless, it is necessary for the parent to see the current school experience through the eyes of today’s students. Their perceptions of classmates, teachers and school work may not match the parents’ view, and any understanding of their problems will remain limited until this gap is bridged.

A recent addition to the staff of Community Counseling Services, Stephane Stegeman, MA PC, provides mental health services for the elementary schools of Crawford County. She places a high value in the strong connection between the home and the school, and has worked with families and schools toward this end of creating successful environments for school-aged children. She agrees that “as the adjustment to school progresses, schools and parents will benefit from working together and from communicating when there is positive behavior or a concern” for the child’s conduct or health.

Although a greater part of the child’s day has moved to a different setting, the parents should still see themselves as serving on the front line with their children. They will be more likely to recognize significant changes in the behavior of their son or daughter before anyone else.

For instance: Are they complaining about headaches and stomach pains more than usual? Do they seem easily agitated or impatient, or are they frequently tired? Are they depressed and closed to discussions about their day, or their feelings? The parents might also begin noticing falling grades, incomplete homework, or antisocial behavior, such as lying, stealing, and irresponsibility. The child may have also lost interest in playing sports or in joining group activities (“Children and Stress: Are You Pushing Your Child Too Hard?” ohioline.osu.edu).

Parents can learn how the child is handling the anticipated changes by committing to the following steps:

– OBSERVE the sources of stress and the child’s reactions to them.

– LISTEN to what he or she says, and doesn’t say. Many times, their silence can be a clue to something more.

– BE INVOLVED in class activities and functions. Learn what happens in a typical day in class.

– TALK to the teacher about the child’s behavior.

– TAKE NOTES if a negative pattern is developing.

– CALL IF HELP IS NEEDED. Consult a family pediatrician, or the school counselor.

Community Counseling Services is a private, non-profit organization, supported by the United Way and a contractor of the ADAMH Board of Crawford and Marion counties.

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