The carefree days of summer will soon be interrupted by alarm clocks and homework. Doctors at Atrium Health Navicent encourage parents to get a jump start on the transition from summer time to the school year by making sure children are ready to get back into a routine.
“Back-to-school season is both exciting and daunting for children and parents. Whether children are returning to a familiar school environment or going for the first time, it’s important to help your children prepare now to excel in their upcoming school year,” said Dr. Ryan Davies, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Navicent.
These tips from physicians at Atrium Health Navicent can help:
Get to the Doctor Parents and guardians should use this opportunity to double-check that children aren’t overdue for their regularly scheduled well-visit, or for vaccines. Visit your pediatrician to ensure that your child is healthy and ready for school with proper documentation of vaccines, vision and hearing screens, as well as completion of sports physical forms. “Visiting your child’s pediatrician for regular well visits is important to ensure that they are up-to-date with childhood vaccines that keep them healthy and avoid serious illness. Regular visits can also help your pediatrician identify health problems that may have better outcomes if found and treated early. Your pediatrician will have advice on how to keep your child healthy, which includes recommendations for a healthy diet, regular exercise, as well as avoiding unnecessary and excessive screen time. Your pediatrician can also assist in making sure that your child is ready to participate in school sports by performing a sports physical for the year,” Davies said. It is important for your child to receive vaccines before they start school, where they may be exposed to illnesses that not only disrupt learning, but more importantly can be devastating for your child’s health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children ages 3 to 10 receive vaccinations for chickenpox; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP); flu; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); polio; and COVID-19. Children ages 11 to 18 should be vaccinated for flu; human papillomavirus (HPV); meningococcal conjugate; serogroup B meningococcal; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP); and COVID-19. The CDC’s booster tool or a visit with your pediatrician can help determine the vaccine and booster schedule that’s right for your family. Your child’s pediatrician can also identify any areas where your child may benefit from therapies or learning accommodations to ensure your child’s success in school. “Some families undergo hardships, financial or other kinds, which can negatively affect their child’s ability to concentrate, learn, and perform well at school,” Davies said. “Your pediatrician can be your partner in helping you find resources you may need to provide a home environment that allows for your child to focus on learning.”
Get into a Routine School starting can mean readjusting an entire family’s morning routine, and that can be tough on children and adults. Now is the time to start getting children to bed at a reasonable time, and waking them up at a consistent time — even on the weekends. This will help adjust their routine. “Get into a routine now with regular bed and waking times. With the looser structure of summer, it can be difficult, but it is important for school success because children who are tired tend to have more difficulties concentrating and regulating their emotions and behaviors,” Davies said. Once school starts, settling into a homework routine is also important. If your child doesn’t have activities in the afternoon, build a quick snack break into the schedule followed by homework. By completing homework before dinner, children have a larger block of time to relax or play before going to bed, which encourages a regular and more restful sleep schedule. Other ways to make school mornings less stressful include checking before bedtime that homework is completed and loaded in backpacks, school supplies are packed and ready, clothes are laid out and sports or band equipment is packed and ready to go.
Get a Healthy Start Studies show that children learn better with full stomachs. Also, children who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier throughout the day. If your child isn’t eating breakfast and lunch at school, make sure to stock up on easy-to-pack lunches and healthy breakfasts ahead of time. Some breakfast recommendations include boiled eggs, fresh fruit, frozen whole-grain waffles, low-sugar granola bars, low-fat string cheese, pre-bagged servings of high-fiber cereal, smoothies, trail mix and yogurt. For lunch, pack sandwiches with whole grain bread, plus a serving of fruits or veggies. For kids who don’t like sandwiches, consider string cheese or other low-fat cheese or yogurt to bump up the protein. For a beverage, pack water, milk or 100-percent fruit juice. After-school snacks should not include sugary drinks or energy drinks. Instead, encourage the whole family to drink plenty of water. Limit your child’s consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods. Ideas for healthy after-school snacks include carrots, apples, bananas, blueberries, grapes, yogurt or oven-baked vegetable chips.
Get Outside and Play When paired with a diet rich in lean protein, fruits and vegetables, staying active can help strengthen bones, decrease blood pressure, help with weight-management, increase self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety. “Unstructured playtime is important for your child’s brain development. Exercise not only helps kids stay healthy, it can also improve focus,” Davies said.
Get to Bed on Time Doctors at Atrium Health Navicent recommend that children get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. “Helping your child get a good night’s sleep takes planning and consistency. Healthy sleep habits involve creating an atmosphere conducive for sleep — like a quiet, dark, cool room — and ensuring that activities prior to bedtime program your child to sleep,” Davies said. “Leading to bed, most pediatricians recommend bath, brushing teeth, book and then bed. Screens should be avoided for 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime, and regular bed and waking times should be set.”
Get Together While some children may be excited to go back to school, for others, it can induce worry or anxiety. Make time to talk to your kids about how they are feeling. Ask questions like, “What are you excited about?” “Is there anything that you’re worried about?” “It is common and normal for many children to have some anxiety about starting the school year. Activities such as visiting your child’s school, meeting their teacher and helping them envision their day will help take the unknown out of starting a new year and help relieve some of their worries,” Davies said. “Ask your child what they are excited about and to share what specific concerns they may have to better understand them. You may find that your child’s teacher or pediatrician can be a great resource to help navigate and address some of your child’s anxieties before starting school.” Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child’s mental health. Treating problems at the beginning of the school year can prevent poor grades, difficult behaviors or worsening states of mind. Most importantly, spending time with your child will benefit and enrich your relationship. “Take a walk, color a picture and talk. This will help create an environment where your child will be able to discuss more difficult subjects with you regarding challenges they may face at school with friends, peers, difficult subjects or life in general. Talking with your child about school and what to expect may also decrease any anxiety they may have about starting a new school year,” Davies said.
If your child is struggling with their back-to-school habits, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Navicent can help. To find a doctor, visit childrenshospitalnh.org and click “Find A Doctor.”