Vulnerable Kids Go Back to School: 6 Things Caregivers Can Do BEFORE the First Day
It’s mid July and for many families, that means (gulp) considering back-to-school preparations. While all kids can benefit from these recommendations, for those with histories of depression, anxiety, and/or attention problems, these steps can be critical to preventing a life threatening escalation of symptoms.
Thankfully, there’s still time to do a few things that will make life a whole lot easier once the first day arrives:
Tighten up Sleep Hygiene
They’ve been keeping vampire hours for the entire summer and it’s tempting to let things stay that way, but starting the school year with disrupted sleep makes them susceptible to mood disorders and puts kids at a disadvantage from the outset.
Start by waking them up 15 minutes earlier each morning until they are getting up at the expected “school time” for at least 3 days prior to the first day. Don’t worry about what time they go to bed. That will take care of itself.
Make Critical Appointments Now
Get a jump on the year by going ahead and booking those psychiatrist, therapist, orthodontist, dental, and other specialist appointments on Friday afternoons, Saturdays, or random school holidays. These are prime times and spots get filled quickly. Our office has several providers who see kids on Saturday mornings. This is a “two-fer”--get the kid up at the usual time on the weekend and avoid interrupting a busy week with therapy appointments.
Avoid overbooking kids and leaving too little time for homework, personal time, and dinner with the family. Talk with the school if your child’s medical or psychological appointments interfere. Public schools and private schools that receive any public funds are required to accommodate kids with mental health issues. Make sure therapy providers are also willing to be an advocate for your child within the school system if the time comes.
Regulate the Smartphone
If you don’t have an agreement about phone use, make one. Kids should be clear about what is acceptable use during the school year. More and more research suggests that smartphone and online activity contributes to a variety of problems including depression, anxiety, and attention issues.
Make a rule that phones will be plugged in in YOUR bedroom each night by 9pm (at the latest). Download OurPact or another application which will allow you to remotely regulate and automate a schedule for online usage.
Organize and buy as much as you can to help things run smoothly and reduce last minute stress. Besides getting the basic school supplies, go ahead and sharpen pencils, stockpile extra printer ink and paper, update software and run cleanup programs, check markers and pens for functioning, and consider making freezer meals in bulk and setting up grocery or meal delivery.
If your child has mental health and/or attention issues, the school can provide an extra set of textbooks to keep at home, thereby eliminating the last minute panic of forgetting them in a locker.
Hire or Enlist Help
Stop feeling guilty and instead, take advantage of any services you can afford that will make your life easier. Stressed out parents equals stressed out kids.
If a tutor, housekeeper, meal delivery service, errand runner, or babysitter would reduce conflicts after 8pm (aka “the witching hour”), HIRE ONE. If you can’t justify spending the money, consider how much better your relationship with your child will be once you aren’t so burned out at the end of the day—then do it.
If your budget won’t allow for it, formally enlist the help of family, friends, and any low cost or free community/school programs. Don’t let your stubbornness get in the way of your family’s happiness.
Commit to Peacefulness
More important than any of the above issues is for caregivers to prioritize. In case that is difficult, here’s the top priority: Peacefulness.
Make sure to keep things in perspective, pick your battles, and not “sweat the small stuff.” It can actually mean the difference between an healthy and happy kid and one who is weighed down by academic pressure, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Homework is not more important than emotional stability. Grades are not the “end all be all” of whether someone will be successful in life. Communicate constantly to your kids that you love and accept them because of who they are, not because of what they do or don’t do.
Commit to a few nights of insisting that they put the homework down and come watch a movie with you or go to bed early. Refuse to allow the “to-do” list, the almighty schedule, or the report card to be a dictator in your home. There is no GPA, soccer team, or theatre group important enough to die for.