It’s that time again. The start of the school year can bring excitement, as well as fear and anxiety. Back-to-school time can be exceptionally difficult for the 20 percent of children who suffer from mental health challenges. The ability to sit still, get organized, adapt to a new schedule can be overwhelming for children with anxiety and other mental health disorders. So how can parents make the transition to school as easy as possible? We asked Alexander Youth Network’s new Vice President of Clinical Services Dr. Kamilah McKissick for some tips.
What can I do as a parent to start my kid off on the right foot this school year?
Set a schedule. The sooner the whole family, especially children and adolescents, get back on a regular schedule for school the easier it is for kids to adjust to the school routine.
How can I support my child who is going to a new school?
This is a great time to have a conversation with your child to see how they are feeling. Are they worried or scared about anything? If they are worried about who they will sit with at lunch, it can be really helpful to “role play” or talk through it with them. They might feel silly, you might too! But this practice can help them feel confident in that situation. Don’t forget to ask them what they are excited about. This is a great time to identify the positives with them to build on – in fact they might be delighted to be leaving one group of kids behind and having a fresh start at a new school, on a new team, or other activity. Also, plan something special for the first day or week. Take this time to process with them about how the day or week went.
What is the most important thing I can do if my child seems really anxious or depressed?
Don’t minimize their feelings. Hear their concerns – really listen and validate what they are saying. Normalize their feelings and then get a game plan together for them to be able to deal with their feelings. Sometimes, it helps a child to be able to voice their fears, realize their feelings are normal, and then get a game plan together to deal with it.
When should I seek help for my child?
If you see changes in your child’s normal behavior – sleeping, eating, change in friends, change in grades, an increase in irritability, withdrawing from their normal activities (i.e. sports, friends, etc.), then it is time to consult with your pediatrician. It is always important for parents to monitor their children’s internet usage. Your pediatrician will likely refer you to a therapist. Therapists help children and families talk through their feelings and problems and develop positive ways to express themselves. Sometimes, they will suggest a referral to a psychiatrist who uses medicine to help manage the symptoms related to mental health issues.
About Dr. Kamilah McKissick
This year, Alexander Youth Network welcomed Dr. Kamilah McKissick as its new Vice President of Clinical Services. Dr. McKissick brings a wealth of experience working with children and families to the organization. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She completed her Masters and Doctorate degrees at Loyola University. Dr. McKissick has had a vast array of clinical and leadership experiences in multiple settings, including hospitals, schools, psychiatric facilities, day treatment programs, outpatient programs, community mental health centers and departments of juvenile justice. She looks forward to bringing her lifelong passion to give children with mental health issues a voice in the treatment process. She is a strong advocate for the health care system to place equal focus on mental and physical health.