Back to School and Don't Feel Cool?
I usually felt "cool" for about 24 hours: the first day of school. I'm referring to the prison sentence of middle school years where prison = school and work release = home. For those four years (5th-8th grade), I held onto a mustard seed of faith that I would be able to walk into the school with confidence after setting my hair in rollers, waking up to a freshly toasted pop tart (cherry frosted), and sprinting up the stairs with my giraffe legs to put on the finest parochial schoolbelles uniform wondering if anyone else would choose the coral polo and white sock look. First day anxiety was healthy: wondering who was in my "home room", where I would sit at lunch prior to making my first fudge round purchase, checking out the progression of secondary sex characteristics on people I hadn't seen all summer, and finally the anticipated new girl in school alert. Would I be able to convince her that my panic attacks and anxiety disorder were cool without the not-so-new girls alluding to my oddities?
And there you have it, first day...maybe week if i was lucky went without disturbances in processing threatening stimuli such as classrooms, classmates, teachers and such. So back to being anxious, insecure, tired, unprepared, and ready to fake an illness two of the five days of every school week.
As much as I wanted to blog about the coolest trends in school gear, how to slow down screen time and create healthy sleep patterns prior to returning to school, or how to meal prep or organize your kitchen for stress-free mornings, I realized something: I have ZERO experience in parenting a school-aged child. However, I have all the experience in anxiety disorder, depression and finding my way through, much from the perspective of: my parents did the best they could AND if I knew then what I know now.
Advice for parents from the perspective of a child who decided to become a counselor:
1. Try not to helicopter but don't be overly aloof. Showing interest in your child's day with a healthy dialogue strengthens your child's communication skills at home which extend to socializing at school. This is especially important in the beginning of the school year because of the changes in teachers, classrooms, students and workload. (Switching schools would be a different blog post). My parents usually asked "how was your day?" and I'd answer "fine" and that would be the end of it.
2. Conversely, some children just aren't going to talk much no matter what you do. Look for nonverbal cues and body language that indicate possible fear, anxiety, or general disturbances in your child's overall demeanor. Take the time to recognize your child's healthy outlets and encourage them to engage if they are withdrawn. Whether it's running around the yard with a stick pretending to be a pirate, playing basketball, drawing, singing to a favorite i-tunes playlist, or writing slick rhymes. Nothing gets accomplished when a child feels trapped in their own skin, so outlets are really great substitute forms communication during pre-adolescence.
3. Be the parent or caregiver that cares about sleep. Sleep patterns are linked to concentration levels, mood, and executive functioning. Don't give up on your master manipulator son or daughter either. I think the exhaustion of being a parent, feeling as though they needed to choose their battles kept my parents from caring past 9:30 pm. I used to sneak into the TV room to watch Unsolved mysteries and weird shows on HBO far past my bedtime, then go to sleep like I was working second shift.
4. Download some apps for relaxation, mindfulness and all the good fluffy stuff that will help! Some suggestions are Headspace: Meditation; Brightmind: Guided Meditation; and Breathe Kids. Let's face it: might as well have super glue between our palms and our phone case, so make it useful.
5. Be pro-active in your child's treatment if you suspect anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, ADHD, or any other disorder. Talk to the teachers and encourage collaboration between counselor, psychiatrists, and school personnel.
6. Be aware of who your children are spending time with both in and outside of school. This seems like a no brainer, but some children are like oil and water when together and the antagonist roles can lead to disastrous decision making.
7. Setting aside time for homework is healthy, but the environment is more important. Does your child feel supported? Understand that not every child works best without music or other distractions. (I say this because I felt so intimidated by silence as a child and music was my therapy). Workloads are incredibly heavier than when I was growing up partially due to the convenience of Chrome books or iPads.
8. Essential oils!!! Here's a good link to a blog that explains the benefits of different oils for alleviating anxiety, helping focus, reducing depression etc.
And remember "You're off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way" - Dr. Seuss Oh the Places You'll Go.
And, as always, please visit Ubuntu's website at www.ubuntuwellnessohio.com to read about our team of licensed counselors and other professionals for all of your wellness needs.