Going back to school can be exciting but can also cause anxiety for teens. There is the academic element, including preparing for college and adulthood, but the social aspect can cause a lot of pressure, too. Imagine, then, how much more stressful going back to school might be for your teen after they have been in treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders. They will face all of these pressures while they are still new to recovery and dealing with cravings and triggers. As a parent or caregiver, it is essential to emotionally prepare your child to return to school after treatment.
Creating a Supportive Environment for Your Teen
One of the most helpful things you can do for your child as they take this big step after treatment is to maintain a healthy, supportive relationship with them. Help them understand that you are there for them and will listen to them and support them in any way you can. In addition to being available to talk when needed, your support might include:
- Rides to therapy appointments
- Walking or exercising with them
- Providing them with healthy food choices
- Access to support meetings
- Setting and maintaining accountability for behaviors and choices
- Providing academic support, such as tutoring, if needed
By providing for their needs and also holding them accountable for their actions, you demonstrate your love for them in tangible ways. Being there for them, involved in their lives in realistic ways while also allowing them independence and the opportunity to make choices, you provide them with a supportive environment for their recovery.
Facing the Rigors of Academic Achievement
Every student faces stress from academic endeavors, even those for whom school is relatively easy. The workload is demanding, and the curriculum can be challenging, even for the most scholarly of students. The pressure to get good grades to be able to attend the college or university of their choice only adds to the stress level.
This pressure can easily lead your child to relapse if they are unprepared. Talking with your teen about the academic expectations and assuring them that their mental wellness takes priority over academic achievement will help relieve some of this stress. Discussing realistic plans for managing homework, preparing for tests, and completing projects and assignments while still maintaining their daily recovery routine can help them create the right priorities and mindsets to face this pressure without relapsing.
Managing the Social Pressures of Peers
Social pressures can cause the most anxiety for teens returning to school. Meeting new people and making new friends or healing old relationships can create a wide range of emotions, and thus, behaviors. These emotions are powerful and can change very quickly as social circumstances change, making teens particularly emotionally volatile.
Given that emotional triggers can easily cause relapse, it is important that you talk to your teen about managing the social pressures of school in advance. You can talk with them about preparing for situations that make them anxious, like meeting new people or being embarrassed, as well as situations that make them particularly emotional, such as friends that make them sad or angry.
Making a Plan to Cope With Triggers at School
Having established a supportive environment at home, your teen will need to develop a plan to cope with emotional triggers or cravings while they are at school. This may include involving a trusted adult, such as a school counselor or favorite teacher, who can offer a safe place to go when necessary. If possible, having a support network of at least one trusted friend at school can also help. Making sure your child practices coping strategies they can use in the moment, such as breathing techniques, urge surfing, and mindfulness meditation, can also help prepare them.
Avoiding People, Places, and Activities That Could Cause a Relapse
The most obvious triggers of returning to school will be the potential exposure to the people, places, and activities they associate with prior substance use or exposure to new opportunities for substance use. Facing these situations will be very difficult, and if they face them while under stress, these situations will be even more difficult.
Making plans to avoid triggering situations as much as possible in the first place will help so that your teen is not tempting fate. Talking about potential situations in advance and helping your teen mentally walk through different scenarios and practice saying no or walking away from various situations will help them be prepared when situations arise. Knowing that you are aware of the challenges they will be facing and are there to support them will also help them to prevent a relapse.
Helping your child prepare to return to school after treatment for substance use or mental health disorders can be very challenging. They will face anxiety about the academic rigors and social pressures that come with school. By providing them with love and support and helping them to make plans in advance to prevent a relapse, you can help your teen be successful. At Sustain Recovery, we believe that family is a part of recovery and that your support is invaluable at a time like this. Being a part of your child’s relapse prevention plan will help both of you be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Our Irvine, California, extended residential treatment program aims to help families prepare for relapse prevention by offering the education and coping skills needed to face stressful situations like returning to school. Call us at (949) 407-9052 to learn more.