Managing Mental Health and School: Can My Child Handle it? – Casey Tallent, PhD
Note: Dr. Tallent addresses going back to school after eating disorder treatment. However, the recommendations are similar for young people who have been in treatment for other mental health issues.
As a parent, you are celebrating another milestone in your child’s life — the start of another school year.
As a parent of a child in recovery, you are likely plagued with many worries about how to best prepare for the new academic year:
- Is my child ready to go back to school?
- Will relapse occur?
- How do I best support my child as s/he heads back to school?
These thoughts among many others may be running through your mind. Heading back to school is stressful for all parents, but for those with a child in recovery, this time of year can be even more intense.
I’d like to share a few tips to help you on your journey during this tumultuous time.
1. Self-care is a must!
Self-care is incredibly important in this journey both for your own survival and to model self-care for your child. Whereas all students would benefit from engaging in more self-care, many adolescents often leave this important aspect out of their back to school plans. Make a list of the things in your life that relax you (e.g., yoga, reading a book, going on a nature walk, taking a hot bath, or even taking the time to enjoy a hot cup of tea in the morning). Incorporate this self-care time into each day and share the process with your child; help them find their own ways to incorporate self-care.
2. Work with the treatment team to determine if your child is ready to head back to school.
If your child is of college age, this is a decision not to take lightly. Heading to college prematurely in the recovery process can certainly derail any progress in recovery. Before you make a decision, talk with the treatment team about their recommendations and connect with campus resources to see what they provide to students in recovery. Many college campuses provide therapy groups and individualized treatment for mild eating disorders. However, there are still some colleges who are not able to provide supportive eating disorder resources. Not only do you want to make sure your child is ready to head to campus, but also that the campus is equipped to support students in recovery.
3. Assist your child in connecting with school resources.
As a parent, you are often invited to meet with school counselors and therapists as the beginning of the academic year. Ask what resources are provided and who your child should connect with. Help to get necessary appointments scheduled by empowering your child or sitting with them as they make the appointment.
4. Create a plan with your child’s treatment team.
Talk with treatment team members about creating a back to school plan with your child. Consider the resources that will be available at school and how to best utilize them. Schedule appointments in advance and discuss when, how, and what information will be released to you.
5. Develop a plan on how to keep open communication going throughout the academic year.
Managing one's mental health and school at the same time can be a challenge. Talk frankly with your child about the challenges of the school year and how the two of you can best maintain open communication. Discuss how you will address concerns as well as how your child will come to you with concerns and fears. Include a time to revisit the plan to see if changes need to be made. Most of all, let your child know that you want them to be successful and want to be as supportive as possible.
6. Find a support system.
Everyone needs a support system…and yes, you are included. Here are some ways to find support during this stressful time:
- Consider joining the Eating Disorders Family Connection Facebook group where Eating Recovery Center staff, parents and family members chat and offer information and support.
- Explore Eating Recovery Center’s online resources for friends and family members of those in recovery.
- Get articles and inspirational posts daily at the Eating Recovery Center Facebook page.
- Find a local support group for friends and family members of those impacted by eating disorders. If you can’t find a support group near you, identify friends or family members that you can confide in and trust.
- Meet regularly with an individual therapist, particularly one that understands adolescents and eating disorders.
Most importantly, do not be afraid to tell your support system when you need support!
Casey N. Tallent, Ph.D. is the National Collegiate Outreach Director for Eating Recovery Center.