Feeling the pressure: Five things parents can do to help kids

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Once the back-to-school excitement has leveled off, the realities of the classroom can hit some kids, pre-teens and teenagers like a ton of bricks.

Feelings of anxiety, worry and being overwhelmed are common emotions.

“Kids can be facing a lot of pressure in the classroom and within their social circles,” said Jodi Smith, Heritage Health’s Family Support Services Clinic Director. “Coming back to school can be a rough transition as expectations increase from the three-month break. You may notice your child is more irritable than normal.”

Stress can contribute to depression and anxiety. Those dark thoughts can lead to suicide. Idaho continues to have one of the highest suicide rates in the country. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idahoans age 15 to 34, and for males age 10 to 14, which is 46 percent higher than the national average.

“If you sense your child is withdrawing from friends and their normal activities, this could be a sign they need help,” said Smith. “It’s important to talk to your kids about what they’re going through. Give them extra attention and make sure they’re ok.”

Smith offers these five tips to help kids:

• Establish good sleeping schedules.

• Provide nutritious meals.

• Limit screen time.

• Exercise.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Kids need their rest. School-age children should get at least nine hours of sleep and teenagers need 8 to 10 hours.

“During the summer months, parents allow their kids to have less structure around their sleeping habits,” said Smith. “It’s important to re-establish those schedules and stick to them. Set a hard time for bed. On weekends, encourage your children to take a nap. Limited sleep impacts academic and athletic performance.”

Healthy snacks after school are critical, says Heritage Health dietitian Jennifer Ramsrud.

“Many kids are hungry after school and parents should provide them with snacks to tide them over to dinner,” said Ramsrud. “Avoid that sugar crash from junk food and make sure children get three quality meals every day. Start the day right with a good breakfast.”

Research has shown that too much screen time (television, computers, smartphones) can contribute to childhood obesity, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

“Limiting screen time is a challenge, but it really does make your child healthier in the long run,” said Smith. “Encourage your kids to play outside or talk to friends in person.”

Speaking of going outside, exercise is a great way to reduce stress. It also burns off excess energy and makes kids more physically fit.

Finally, Smith said parents should temper their own frustrations with their children.

“Pick your battles with your children,” said Smith. “Ask yourself, ‘Is this really important?’ Instead of yelling at your children, find a way to engage them in conversations that promote responsibility and accountability.”

For information about family counseling or substance abuse treatment, call (208) 769-4222.

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