Back to School: Children's Mental and Physical Wellbeing

              A person dropping their kid off at school

We are sure you have seen many back-to-school articles discussing immune health and protecting against allergies. However, has anyone thought about discussing mental health with their kids during this jarring transition back to school? Fall is a time for Vata energy to collect. It gets dry, cold, and windy, all Vata qualities. Additionally, changing from a lax summer schedule to a rigid one, such as the start of school, is a Vata event. This is a beautiful season, but if we are not careful to change with autumn, many issues that correspond to Vata can occur.

Having a conversation about stress management with your kids can be uncomfortable because it opens up space for our kids to tell us about their fears at school. This discussion, however, should be conducted, as going from the warm summer that allowed freedom of schedule to the changing weather of fall and structure of school can cause intense amounts of stress. In Ayurveda, Vata is on the rise and in a quick way during autumn. This leads to not only mental stress, but physical stress. Bodies start to ache, immune systems start to weaken, and agitation starts to rise if self-care is not implemented.

Watch your child’s breath. Are they taking full deep breaths or are you noticing shallow breathing? Does your child seem agitated if you interrupt their thought process or are adaptable? Does your child have a change in eating patterns- eating more quickly than usual or not feeling hungry? These changes are signs of stress. If allowed to continue, stress can cause mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

To bridge the conversation about stress and mental health, ask your children how they are feeling before and after school. Ask about the amount of homework they may have or if practice is difficult. Ask them if they feel rested before going to class. Pay attention to their statements and take those statements seriously until you can rule out the contrary. On average, our kids have much more to do than we did at that age and we should hear their concerns with open ears.

If your child is experiencing stress and mental/emotional unrest, take him or her to be evaluated. Ask your practitioner to test for vitamin D levels. Not many physicians conduct this lab for people under the age of 21. Ask for a micronutrient panel to see if your child is deficient in something. Consider supplements for your children. These days, the diet may not be adequate to get the necessary amount of minerals and other micronutrition into rapidly growing bodies. Get the thyroid checked for your kids. During this fluctuating time in the year, the thyroid could be stressed. Typically, hypothyroid issues are not assessed in pediatric patients, however, monitoring thyroid patterns early in life could help with stress and health issues later on. This is especially important if there is a family history of hypothyroidism.

Finally, discuss your child’s digestion with them and a medical professional. How often is your kiddo having a bowel movement? What is the stool like? Do you feel tired or heavy after eating or is there gas? Digestion can directly affect the mental health of children while in school.

Giving daily herbs can help mitigate some of the symptoms of stress. Centella asiatica and Bacopa monnieri are great herbs that help soothe the nervous system, improve sleep quality, and help with concentration. These also help with processing and preventing emotional, mental, and physical stress responses. Ashwagandha helps to normalize hormonal fluctuations and furthers the ability to concentrate. More importantly, ashwagandha helps to reduce cortisol fluctuations, allowing kids to be resilient against stressful situations. If your child is experiencing anxiety or mild depression (Vata imbalances) using saffron in food and drink can make large changes. Have your child smell the spice as well as consume it. You can add saffron to desserts, smoothies, or yogurt. For digestive health, consider using triphala to regulate the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics are also helpful for the healthy development of the gut and help to reduce Vata in the digestion system.

Of course, immune health is important when our kids are in a new public environment. Yet, how our kids are processing that environment and dealing with their lives is just as important. Just as we have stressful daily lives, our kids have their own set of challenges and decisions that are relevant to them. We can help them succeed with nutritional, supplemental, and emotional support.

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