3 Questions to Ask if Your Child Is Having a Rough Start This Semester
Children of all ages, from elementary school through college, are now settled back into the school year. Every year around the start of October, mental health professionals see a rise in consultations for struggling students. Most commonly, these consultations are to diagnose and treat anxiety, depression, or attention deficit disorder. But sometimes psychosocial factors prove to be at play more than brain biology.
1. Is s/he getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy nutrition? Academic performance is strongly affected by overall health. And in students, factors like staying up too late, gorging on junk food, and living the life of a couch potato can cause a decline in cognitive performance and an increase in distress.
What to do if there's an issue? Kids (all the way through college) need more sleep than people tend to think. Bedtimes as early as 7:30pm are often appropriate for young elementary students, and 10:00pm is often late enough for the oldest students in high school and beyond. Healthy food is universally accepted as a mostly plant based diet, minimal in processed foods like cookies and crackers and other factory packaged items, and it affects brain performance. Substances like alcohol and marijuana don't help either. When good foodstuff goes in, things like concentration and focus improve, as does mood quality. And physical activity reduces the negative effects of stress and improves stress management. When students are struggling, focusing in on these 3 areas of self care can get things back on track.
2. Is there a problem relationship?A relationship problem with a teacher, a peer, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a parent, or another key someone can serve as a huge distraction for a student.
What to do if there's an issue? Give your student an avenue to talk it out. Whether it's with a school counselor, a family friend, a clergy member, or a mental health professional, having someone to talk to (other than parents) can help to sort things out.
3. Would tutoring help? Some school problems are emotional, but others are academic. Changing schools, or starting a new year after falling behind in the previous one can lead to new academic overwhelm. When your child takes on higher levels of work, like Algebra or an AP course, s/he may start to struggle. Transitioning to middle school, high school, or higher ed can lead to academic trouble.
What to do? If the problem at school is academic- a lack of readiness for the level of work, or falling behind- academic assistance would prove more useful than mental health consultation. Consider a tutor, or even dropping down to a less rigorous course to get things back on track.