Transitioning to a new school is an exciting and terrifying experience for both you and your child. It can all be overwhelming, whether they are making the middle school transition, moving from middle school to high school, or heading off to college.
If your tween, teen, or young adult deals with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or something else, it can be even more so.
The good news is that you can do plenty of things to help your child prepare for college, middle, and high school. While these transitions occur at much different points in your son or daughter’s life, many of the obstacles are the same.
Read on to discover some practical tips on supporting your child’s mental health as they transition into the next chapter of their lives
Helpful Tips for Preparing for College, Middle, and High School When Your Child Has Mental Health Concerns
One of the most important things you can do for your child as they transition to a new school is to be prepared. You want to make sure they feel self-reliant, but you also want to ensure you have the appropriate support measures in place for their mental health.
These tips can be utilized for the middle school transition when your child moves from middle school to high school as they are preparing for college.
- Meet the Mental Health Support Staff at Your Child’s School
Don’t wait for a mental health crisis before you know where they can turn for help. If your son or daughter is going to middle or high school, schedule a phone call or meeting with their assigned counselor. When they are aware of your child’s mental health concerns ahead of time, you don’t have to waste precious time if a crisis should occur.
If your son or daughter is preparing for college, talk with their counselor and get referrals for local therapists. The first trimester of college can be the most stressful for your young adult, so knowing who they can talk to on campus (for free) is an excellent way to avoid a mental health crisis.
Whether or not you set up therapy appointments before they start school depends on your child’s situation, but it’s a good idea if you think it could benefit them.
- Consider an Off-Campus Therapist
If your child is getting ready to enter middle or high school and they don’t already have a therapist, it’s a good idea to get them into therapy before the transition. This is especially true if they are anxious about the change. If they’re already seeing a therapist, make sure they address their fears and anxieties before school starts.
When you have a young adult heading to college away from home, and you’re concerned for their mental health concerns while away, finding an off-campus therapist is critical. While it’s not free like college counseling, if your son or daughter is struggling, having a therapist to confide in regularly can make their transition smoother.
And, unlike college counseling, they won’t be limited to the number of sessions they can attend per semester.
- Find a Local Psychiatrist for Medication Management
Making the college transition when your child is on medication requires some advanced preparation. Find a local psychiatrist who can prescribe, monitor, and modify medication as needed as soon as possible.
Because getting into a local psychiatrist can often take a while, try setting up an appointment as soon as possible, preferably within the first two weeks of classes. This way, your college student can establish a relationship with them, and you can inform them of their medication history.
You may even want to consider having your son or daughter get a genetic test before school starts so their psychiatrist can customize their therapy and medication based on their genetic makeup.
- Meet With the Disability Office
When your child with mental health concerns heads to middle school or high school, their counselors are most likely aware of their need for an IEP or counseling assistance in the past. If not, make sure you talk with them about it and set up an IEP meeting if needed.
When making the college transition, ask their counselor who you need to speak to about their specific learning needs. It’s a good idea to meet with the disability officer or whomever you need to talk to in order to document your child’s mental health issue so you can sign up for accommodations before the first semester begins.
Consider having the disability officer or appropriate individual at their school check-in with your child on a planned schedule to ensure they are staying on track.
- If Possible, Sign an Informed Parental Consent
When your child is making the middle school transition or moving from middle school to high school, this may not be necessary since they are likely living at home with you. You know your child best, so you can likely assess how they’re doing without needing a consent form.
But if your son or daughter is making the college transition and is over 18, this can get a little trickier. At age 18, your child is considered a legal adult, so the college can’t contact you if they see your child is having a mental health issue or not showing up to class for weeks at a time.
While you’d like to let your child learn how to navigate their own mental health and academic challenges, it can also be dangerous if they hide it from you.
Signing an informed parental consent form is an excellent way to ensure you stay informed of your child’s mental health situation while away at school. Even though your child may be mature enough to recognize when they need help, they may not get it if they are in a pit of depression and battling everyday brain fog.
But a signed consent form means you have one more tool on your side to ensure you’re getting notified of any absences and mental health concerns.
It’s important to note, however, that just because you sign a consent form, that doesn’t necessarily mean the college will contact you. But it does mean you can check in and see how things are going when you want to.
Tips for Ensuring the Middle School, High School, or College Transition Goes Smoothly
Once you have the support measures identified and set up, you can focus on everyday things your child can do to transition to their new school as healthy as possible. The changes can be a lot to handle, whether they are 11, 14, or 19. But if you keep these tips in mind as they start the school year and throughout, you can help ease the transition.
- Encourage Small-Group Socialization
The first semester of middle school, high school, and college can stir up feelings of anxiety and stress. Your child will likely be plagued with worries about making friends, fitting in, and staying on top of school work.
While this may be more challenging for some teens and young adults than others, encourage your son or daughter to join a club, sport, or activity where they can meet others with similar interests. Drama club, band, chess club, science club, computer club, intramural sports clubs – there are a ton of options!
For incoming middle-schoolers, first-year high school students, and college freshmen, there are often more intimal orientations where they can get familiar with the campus, classmates, and available clubs without worrying about the whole school being there. If these types of events are available for your child, do what you can to ensure your son or daughter attends.
- Prioritize Exercise and Getting Outdoors
Exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety by impacting neural growth, reducing inflammation, and releasing feel-good endorphins. Encourage your middle schooler, high schooler, or college student to make a daily plan to exercise in some way. Even if it’s just a walk with a friend, it can do wonders for their mental health.
Nature has a calming effect, so if possible, try to get your son or daughter to spend some time outdoors. If they can exercise with others outside, that’s even better. They’ll feel the benefits of exercise and community in one.
- Establish a Healthy Diet
Hopefully, your child has already established healthy eating habits at home. But if not, make sure you make it a priority when they’re transitioning to another school. Ensuring they are getting the proper nutrients through a healthy diet is another way to support their mental health from the inside.
It goes without saying that your son or daughter’s diet shouldn’t include alcohol or other substances, especially if they battle mental health issues. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs negatively impacts mood, sleep, and overall health. It’s best to steer clear.
- Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits
Making sure your child has healthy sleep habits is one of the most important things you can do to prevent depression and keep them healthy. Ideally, if your son or daughter can go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, that’s best.
We know this may not always be possible, especially if they are away at college. But make sure you talk with them about having good study habits and avoiding procrastination. Encourage them with the fact that they’ll perform better on a good night’s sleep. Hopefully, this will help them make sleep a priority.
Need More Help Preparing Your Child for a School Transition? We Can Help.
If you are looking for teen or young adult therapy in the Chicago area, contact our mental health professionals at Dayrise Wellness. We’re here for you, even if you’re just looking for guidance when preparing your child for a college transition, middle school transition, or transition from middle school to high school.
Because we specialize in only treating teens and young adults, you can count on our therapy team to provide the best therapy and treatment for your son or daughter. Not to mention, we ensure you, the parent, have the tools and help you need to ensure your child feels loved, valued, and supported.