BACK TO SCHOOL, Part 2: Can Teachers Be the Key to a Student’s Mental Health Wellbeing?

Teacher with students

With classes well underway, students all across the country are settling into their new grades – whether they are Kindergartners or seniors in high school and beyond. With the preparation and excitement to start the new school year on the right foot behind us, it’s time now to take note of any issues that may be affecting a student’s overall mental health wellbeing. Teachers have the best opportunity to observe children and students of all ages to see whether they are adjusting nicely or if they need additional support.

Typically, teachers are limited in what they can say to a parent regarding the health and welfare of a student since they are not diagnostic professionals. However, it is very helpful for a lot of parents to learn “early in the game” if their child is struggling so they can get help sooner.

So, what exactly should a teacher be looking for?

Teachers could possible notice a student…

  • struggling with school work,

  • dealing with isolation,

  • bullying others or being bullied,

  • having anxiety or stress (for any number of reasons), or

  • having difficulties making friends.

While these are just a sampling of potential red flags, early attention to such challenges can make a huge difference for a student — regardless of age. If it is determined that a student be referred for an evaluation, then a plan can be put in place to help with whatever the student is struggling with and, therefore, there is an increased chance for the student to thrive.

Children in particular have “windows of opportunity” when it comes to social adjustment with peers. If they are not able to make friends and to operate successfully in the peer group in elementary school for example, it becomes a huge deficit by the time they are in middle school. Studies show that children who do not have a peer or peer group of friends by middle school are more at risk for drug experimentation. This is true as well for children that are depressed and/or anxious — with this group being vulnerable to bullying and possibly leading to self-harming behaviors.

A lot of times parents do not know how children behave at school since they are not there to observe. What the child reports may very well be different from the actual behavior. Teachers and administrators are the “front line” when it comes to observing a student struggling at school. Again, if this can be relayed to the parents at an earlier point in time, they can address the problem and the child can begin to have healthier relationships and improved mood/reduced anxiety more quickly. Teamwork between the parents being more aware and the teachers/administrators reporting to the parents will lead to children having the support they need to be happy, healthy, and successful in school this year.

— Kathy Miller, Owner

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