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​Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC Hamot Provides Tips for Transitioning Smoothly into the School Year

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ERIE, Aug. 19, 2015 – The start of the school year is an exciting time for parents and students. In addition to preparations such as purchasing school supplies, parents should also prepare to resume schedules and implement rules that can provide structure and keep lines of communication open.

“It’s important for parents and children to switch from summertime mode to back to school mode both physically and mentally,” said Mandy Fauble, Ph.D., LCSW, Vice President of Clinical Operations at Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC Hamot. “Each year at this time, we assist many children and teens with behavioral issues. Some children may struggle with leaving their parents, getting back into the school routine and managing successful relationships with peers and teachers.”

Dr. Fauble offers  the following reminders and suggested activities that can help in this seasonal transition and make the school year a more positive experience for students of all ages and their parents.

Kindergarten - Grade 4

  • Routine is critical for younger children, as the predictability can help to avoid many issues.
    • Homework before play time improves the child’s willingness to comply with homework in order to “earn” the play.
    • Many children need an afterschool snack and will behave significantly better with a healthy snack.
  • Having enough sleep is critical; kids need 10-11 hours even at this age.
  • When children say they would rather be with their caregivers and miss them greatly, it is helpful for the caregiver to explain how beneficial both school and work are for our families and for our personal development, while still expressing understanding  about how much we might miss one another during this time. This teaches children the skills to push through something difficult without being overwhelmed by negative feelings about it.
  • Reassure children who worry by helping them look forward to specific people and things throughout  their days.
  • Consider including a note in your child’s lunch to help brighten a young child’s day.

Grades 5 - 8

  • Stick to routines as best as you can.
  • Don’t underestimate how much sleep young people need at this stage. Try to help them get to bed early. Avoid sleeping too late on the weekends, since it further complicates their disrupted and tired bodies instead of actually helping.
  • Create a calendar and determine a method of family communication about activities early on in the school year. This will significantly reduce stress over time.
  • Develop a means of learning about your child’s school experiences. Most kids aren’t able to provide a lot of details and insight to questions like “How was your day?” Instead, shake it up and look for times to talk – at meals or in the car. Try changing up your questions: “What was the best part of your day?” “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” Know that the toughest times for kids as they relate to their peers are lunch, before and after school, the bus and in the halls. It is important to ask about those times, not just about classes.
  • Teach young people boundaries and limits with texting, tablets and other electronic devices.
    • One of the most important skills is being assertive and self-assured. It is not healthy to expect others to text back instantly, and it is not healthy for others to expect to have constant access to you or your child by phone. Being ok with turning it off is a reflection of healthy relationship skills.
    • Take electronics away at bedtime. Many young people report waking up at night and using electronics and communicating via text and social media. This is quite disruptive to sleep cycles and also doesn’t set healthy relationship expectations.

Grades 9 - 12

  • Sleep, healthy relationships and establishing boundaries are still very important to teens transitioning to more independence and into adulthood, so it’s important to reinforce what’s been working in middle school.
  • Finding ways to communicate continues to be important as young people and their families are on different schedules. Sometimes parents feel threatened by other adults, but the important thing is that the teen has a trusted adult to talk to when it’s needed. Fostering these healthy relationships through family friends, church, after school programs, employment, and activities like sports are great ways for youth to get the mentorship they need. Likewise, mealtime, time in the car, or quick chats before bed are all important opportunities to touch base. For parents who feel too overwhelmed themselves, it’s important to remember that it’s not so much about the quantity of time, but the quality of time instead.
  • Look for ways to praise. While it can be hard to deal with family conflict during these years, neither a parent or a child is happy when the focus is on what’s going wrong. Everyone feels better when they receive a little praise. Likewise, it helps to make sure time is taken to do something together that is fun, not just functional.
  • Take a leap of faith to talk to your teens about something uncomfortable that will help them prepare for the real world. During this time, it is imperative that families find a way to talk about relationships, sexuality, health and wellness, emotions, suicide, friendships, drugs and alcohol, and a host of other things that can be difficult to discuss. It’s important to note that young people might act shocked or embarrassed or act like they don’t want to talk or know everything but, most of the time, they are still listening. They are also glad you care enough to try.
  • Teenagers still need rules. In fact, most teens feel better and more secure with rules and structure. This can be hard for parents who want to be a friend or make sure their child is always happy with them. At the same time, it is more helpful to set limits and structure by being a parent and helping teens make decisions that will serve them well into adulthood.

Special Concerns

  • If your child has academic, behavioral or emotional concerns it is important to speak with the school counselor as soon as possible. It is helpful to provide information on medications as well as what has helped your child succeed in the past.
    Identify a method for communication early on and establish school and family contacts. If we wait until a problem arises we might run into difficulty with getting in touch with each other or be so stressed by the situation that the communication isn’t as effective.
  • Bullying is never okay. Determine who the contact person(s) are at your school to address concerning behaviors.
  • Let your child know who the adults are at school and in your personal life who can help with bigger problems. Let them know what types of things need to be reported to an adult right away. Examples include: drug and alcohol concerns, weapons and threats of violence, sexual harassment, thoughts of suicide or self-injury, and health problems. It is important to help young people understand that there is a big difference between tattling and taking action when it’s necessary to help someone, keep someone safe or even save someone’s life.