Give Kids Your Ear

Back to School Strategies for Mental Wellness

As we anticipate summer break drawing to a close, it is important to think about our students and the rigors associated with the return to school. In decades past, the greatest stressors most students faced were whether they would be able to meet fashion trends and obtain necessary classroom materials.

In recent years, however, students cope with more than the typical pressures of bullies, making friends, and fitting in. Schools continue amidst pandemic challenges and threats of gun violence and mass shootings that appear to be increasing (Center for Homeland Defense and Security, 2022).

As a therapist, one of the most consistent issues I hear from students is they lack a sense of control and unclear directions from authority figures. In order to support our students, it is important to remember how little choice they have, and in turn, give them the opportunity to have a voice and be heard. Often the support of active listening is underestimated. Research demonstrates that truly listening to another person is one of the most effective measures we can use to support others  (Stickley and Freshwater, 2006).

Tips for active listening:

1. Don’t interrupt. Active listening is more than just waiting for your turn to talk or trying to prove your point.

2. Stay focused. Minimize distractions by putting away phones, turning off the TV, lowering the radio, etc.

3. Ask questions. Not just of them, but also of yourself to make sure you are focusing on the actual issue. For example, ask yourself, what is the unmet need this person may have?

4. Paraphrase and summarize. It’s normal to misinterpret, so clarify and give the other person the opportunity to correct if necessary.

While there are many other ways we can support our students as they anticipate returning to school, active listening and having open conversations about the realities of our world is an important place to start. If you need help with these or other issues, please seek professional help.  We are here to support you.

Brittany LaBorde MS, LPC is a licensed professional counselor with Oak Tree Behavioral Services. She is dedicated to helping people develop their stories and empowering others to realize the potential of perspective and motivation.

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