Supporting Tweens and Teens As School Begins

Tell us @tryverima or comment below how your tween/teen is handling the start of school. 

Fall has arrived, and with that the return to school. Across the globe, the return to school amidst the Coronavirus pandemic looks differently depending on where you are living. Some kids are returning to in-person learning at school, others are embarking on an online learning journey, some are doing a combination of the two, and others still are remaining at home to complete their learning via homeschooling.

Regardless of which avenue your child is traveling down, there is no doubt that they will likely be feeling rather anxious about school starting back up again. However, how each child is feeling about school starting back up will be quite different. Some kids thrived during the pandemic shut-down, enjoying the slower pace, more family time, online learning, and decrease in peer pressures and expectations. Other children found the lockdown extremely hard, missing the social interaction, struggling with online learning, perhaps exposed to difficult family situations, and missing the routine of school. 

So, how your tween or teenager reacts to school could be all over the place, as they struggle to prepare themselves for the new unknown. Your child needs your support more than ever, even though in typical teenager fashion, they would never let you know that. Here are some ways that you can help to support your tween or teenager’s mental health when we return to school.

Connect and listen

This is sometimes easier said than done in the world of tweens and teens, because they often struggle between wanting us around and wanting their privacy and independence. However, these are uncertain times, and this return to school is going to be like no other your child has ever experienced, no matter what type of schooling they’re doing.

Find ways to connect with your child, and be there to listen to them when they want to talk. Sharing in their interests, spending quiet time together, going for walks, and just sharing their space with them can help to create opportunities for them to open up and talk with you. Often, side-by-side without eye contact (like going for a walk together or taking a scenic drive) can help to take the pressure off and help them feel more comfortable talking to you.

If they do decide to open up and talk, just be an ear for them. Don’t offer advice or opinions unless asked, just listen and be there for them. Often times they are not looking for us to solve their problems.  And in fact, by offering “solutions” they can feel judged or unheard. Remind your child that you are a safe place for them to talk to, and allow them the freedom to express themselves. Acknowledge their feelings of worry, sadness, or frustration, and help them to label their emotions, as this helps them to process what they are feeling.

Get back into a good routine

I’ll admit it, this process is going to be a bit of a struggle. It’s been almost 6 months of very little routine in our house, and the idea of early mornings and rush, rush, rush is not overly appealing to me. However, as parents, it falls on us to create the routine again, because our children truly do thrive on them.

Having a solid routine at home will help your child to adjust to being back at school. Start setting earlier bedtimes for everyone, and have your children get their stuff ready the night before to help make those early mornings a little easier. Even if you are planning on homeschooling, you will want to set up some routines to help your child transition back into school mode. Just like toddlers thrive on routine, so do teenagers. In fact, all children benefit from solid routines at home, as it helps to create boundaries for them and creates a safe space where they know what is expected of them. 

Speaking of boundaries and spaces, it’s also helpful to have defined physical spaces where school work will take place. A quiet area with a table and comfortable chair so their brains and bodies are prepared to learn. Similarly, a place your kiddos can step away from when they need a break or are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. 

Remain attuned to your child

Tweens and teens are known for keeping to themselves, wanting privacy to process all the changes that are taking place within them, and wanting to manage the ups and downs of their lives by themselves. But, this doesn’t mean that they don’t need you. They really do, now more than ever.

Keep an eye on your child, even if it’s done subtly, and remain attuned to their moods and behavior. Watch for any changes in your child, either physical or behavioral. Some indications that your child may be struggling or feeling anxious could include:

  • Stomach aches or headaches
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lashing out, more easily angered
  • Seeking constant reassurance from a parent
  • Loss of appetite
  • Avoiding or refusing to do things they normally would (activities, responsibilities, etc.)

If you notice changes, try having an honest discussion with them, and see if they will open up and talk to you. This video from Psychologist and author Collett Smart shares some practical tips and strategies for talking to your tween/teen.

Limit their access to the news

While your tween or teen is likely at an age where they can understand what they are hearing in the news, it doesn’t mean that they are processing all of the information correctly, and it can cause overwhelm and increased feelings of anxiety. There is an abundance of negativity in the news these days, as is to be expected in the midst of a global pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that your child needs to hear all of that.

Limit the amount of screen time your child has and how much access they have to the news and social media. This can sometimes prove to be challenging, as for the most part our kids are used to having a certain amount of screen time. But, if you find that they are tuning into the news a lot and getting anxious and concerned about what they are hearing or reading, then you will want to find ways to limit that. Set some limits to screen time in your home, and make it part of the new back-to-school routine. While they may challenge and argue this boundary, their mental health will thank you.

Don’t stress about the academics

Don’t get me wrong, school is important and so are the academics, but not right now. Not yet. Let your child get into the groove of their new schedule (whatever that looks like) without putting on pressure about the academics. Chances are, they’re already feeling nervous about keeping up with their grades after such a long time being off, and they’re probably wondering how they will fare compared to their classmates.

Eventually the academics will ramp up, but first and foremost is your child’s overall mental well-being. By starting off slow and steady, it will be a positive experience for them.

Set some positive goals

Help your tween/teen to set some positive goals for themselves, even if they’re not related to school. Set up a vision board or a dream board that they could add to, or create one as a family. Maybe you have different places that you want to visit once it is safe to do so. Maybe there is a new hobby that your child wants to try. 

Whatever it might be, encourage dreaming and goal setting with your child, as this helps to create a positive mindset, and it fosters feelings of hope. That is so important at a time when life is uncertain and confusing. Help them to remain focused on their dreams and goals, adding to the vision board regularly.

Final Thoughts

This is going to be a school year unlike any other your child has experienced, and that alone is daunting. But, if we are mindful of our own mindset, and go into this school year with as much positivity as we can muster (I totally recognize that it can be a challenge for us as parents too!), then we can make this a wonderful year.

Point out the good that is happening in the world, talk about how everyday people are stepping up and helping others, making a difference, and combatting this pandemic. Set positive dreams and goals that you want to achieve, both individually and as a family. Stay attuned to your child, and keep the lines of communication open. Let them know you are their safe space and you are there for them whenever they need you. We’ve got this, parents!