Health officials encourage open communication when children return to school

With school starting in the next few weeks, health officials are warning parents to create open lines of communication with their children to find the sources of stress that often weigh on children at the start of a new year.

With a new classroom, classmates, or an entirely new school, students face a lot of stress as they find their place in a new environment, said Amber Olson, the regional director of clinical operations for behavioral health at Memorial Behavioral Health.

“Parents need to recognize that the start of a new year is stressful, whether it’s a new building, a new classroom, or a new teacher,” Olson said.

As the year begins, Olson said, students may exhibit some mood or behavior changes as they adjust, and parents need to find a healthy way to address these changes without undermining the child’s feelings.

“When there is behavior change, parents need to be kind and understanding,” Olson said. “Children need to know that all communication is safe and that they are not receiving judgmental statements.”

A child should be able to tell their parents if there’s a problem or concern without judgment, Olson said.

To improve communication, Olson suggested asking open-ended questions, more than just “How was school?” She suggested questions like, “What was the best thing that happened to you today?” and “What was the worst?”

In addition to open communication, it’s important for parents to make sure their children are getting enough sleep and food, Olson said.

“If you’re better rested or better nourished, that helps us deal with stress,” Olson said.

According to, preschoolers (3-5 years) need 10 to 13 hours of sleep, including naps. Children ages 6 to 13 should get between nine and 12 hours of sleep, while 14 to 17 year olds get eight to 10 hours a night.

For the best night’s sleep, the site suggests setting a standard bedtime and a good bedtime routine, such as: B. Washing dishes and brushing your teeth, reading a book or listening to soft music.

This routine shouldn’t deviate much, even on weekends when bedtimes and wake-up times should be within an hour of normal weekday times.

Although communication is the first step, Olson said, some behaviors need to be addressed, especially when it comes to security issues.

Positive reinforcement is one of the most important ways to change behavior. An example would be finding positive rewards for kids to get out of bed.

“For example, if you get up on time and you’re ready with no problems, when you get home or when I get home from work, we’ll go for a walk together or something,” Olson said. “It doesn’t always have to be something to buy something. Then, once that’s established, you can increase it, if you get up properly in the next three or four days, we’ll go to the park.”

When it comes to a negative consequence, parents should be cautious, Olson said.

“Even if there’s a negative consequence, kids still need joy, so you shouldn’t take everything away from them,” Olson said. “So just take one thing. For example when you pick up a phone but nothing else. Make it something enforceable that doesn’t make you and (your) child unhappy.”

Parents also shouldn’t take away anything that impacts life, like sports, where kids learn life lessons and exercise, she said.

For parents or children who are struggling to deal with stress or other issues, there is an emotional support line that anyone can go through to seek advice or help, Olson said. The Memorial Emotional Support Line number is 217-588-5509.

“Sometimes it helps to talk to a completely objective person,” Olson said.

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