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Updated: September 13, 2023 @ 6:05 am
NonStop Local Multimedia Journalist
BOZEMAN, Mont. – The second week of school is starting in Bozeman and students are getting settled into their schedules.
While a new school year may be exciting for some, it can be stressful for others. Dr. Caroline Fenkel, an adolescent mental health expert, has some tips for parents to help their children manage their mental health.
Kids and teens often have a lot on their plate, whether it is advanced classes, extracurricular sports and activities, part-time jobs and keeping up with their friends.
The first thing Fenkel recommends is an open line of communication. Parents should try to listen with an open mind when their kids are speaking and ask open-ended questions.
“I think that frequently parents think that they know what the teenager is going through. And when you start to inquire and you come from a place of curiosity, you’ll find that your teen is going to talk to you about things that you never could have imagined that they were struggling with necessarily,” she said.
Showing vulnerability and sharing your own experiences managing your mental health can be helpful. If you have de-stress methods, sharing these with your kids can help them learn their own methods or borrow from you.
“It’s really important that parents lead with vulnerability and model for their teens and their young adults on what it looks like to, in a healthy way, handle feelings of dysregulation and extreme emotion,” Fenkel said.
And having weekly, scheduled quality time that kids and teens can spend with their parents can help build consistency in their day-to-day lives that are changing really rapidly.
“What happens is when our schedule, especially teenagers, when their schedule gets to be inconsistent, they can experience some pretty intense emotions around that.”
Whether it is breakfast together on Sunday or going for a walk every Wednesday after school, having at least one consistent thing to look forward to helps build stability, she said.
Encouraging your kids to ask for help when they need it will help them in the short and long-term. Asking for help instead of suffering alone or in silence is not weakness, she said.
Developing a toolbox to deal with intense emotions or stress can be really helpful for your kids. Going for a walk, petting their dog or standing outside in the grass are all things they can use to help manage those feelings, Fenkel said.
Fenkel is the co-founder of Charlie Health, a Bozeman-based group working to tackle the youth mental health crisis. Their goal is to ensure young adults experiencing acute mental health struggles have access to affordable treatment that is multiple times per week.
NonStop Local Multimedia Journalist
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