Back-to-school is an exciting time of year and is often viewed as a fresh start for children beginning a new grade or entering a new school. Amidst the excitement Nina Duke, MD at Tower Health Medical Group Pediatrics – Wyomissing provides information to help parents and guardians prepare their child and reduce any anxiety.
“It’s important to get children back into a routine before school starts because it makes for an easier transition,” Dr. Duke shared. “Having a routine can help the child be more prepared, more confident, and have a strong start to the school year.”
Dr. Duke recommends gradually moving up bedtime 10 minutes a night until they are back to their normal school bedtime. Waking up at the same time every morning is also important. If the child continues to sleep in, they likely won’t be ready for an earlier bedtime.
To help children academically prepare she recommends choosing an activity the child enjoys so it doesn’t feel like work. For young children a game of “I Spy” can be a fun way to learn about colors and letters. Ideas for older children include activity books, word searches, and crosswords. If your child was assigned summer reading Dr. Duke encourages discussing the book. “Don’t ask yes or no questions about the book. Ask questions that encourage dialogue such as, ‘What surprised you about the main character?’ or ‘What was the funniest part of the book?’” she advises.
As you prepare for back to school be aware of signs that your child may be anxious about the start of the new school year. Those signs include dread or avoidance of the subject. Younger children might be excessively clingy, and older children may ask a lot of questions.
To ease the child’s concerns, it can be beneficial to familiarize the child with their school. If permitted, take a tour of the school, participate in back-to-school social events, and meet the child’s teacher. If your school’s playground is open to the public organize playdates with other students. If your child is starting a new school take the opportunity to walk or drive by the school so they can see the building before they arrive for the first day.
According to Dr. Duke, if you suspect your child is anxious about school you can help by validating their feelings. “Validate their feelings and let them know it’s ok to be nervous. You can take this opportunity to remind them they are braver than their fears. It is also beneficial to reflect on the anxious feelings after the first few days of the new school year. In a calm space discuss what the child was nervous about and how they are feeling about it now. Remind them they did a great job and highlight what they enjoyed.”
If the anxiety persists and the child continues to be fixated and their feelings are not improving with time, you may want to consider speaking with your child’s guidance counselor, primary care provider, or behavioral health professional.
Check with your child’s pediatric office or online health portal to see if they are due for any required vaccines or their annual well visit. “Many schools in our area require a physical health form to be completed by the child’s primary care provider before kindergarten or first grade, sixth grade, and eleventh grade. I always recommend a wellness physical exam visit every year. These are important opportunities to ensure that your child is growing and developing well and address any concerns you may have. These appointments can also be used to make sure your child is up to date on all their required vaccines. Based on your child’s age they will likely need to have these vaccines completed before entering kindergarten, seventh grade, and twelfth grade. This vaccine schedule assures the children meet the requirements of the state and align with vaccine recommendations from the CDC.”
According to Dr. Duke helping kids prepare for back to school, includes starting their day with a healthy breakfast. “Eating a good breakfast helps to jumpstart brain function. I encourage families to take advantage of the school breakfast program if offered. It’s also helpful to have ‘quick’ breakfast foods available such as yogurt, a piece of fruit, or granola. And don’t forget to hydrate – water is best,” she said.
Going back to school can lead to an increase in illnesses because children spend most of the day indoors, are exposed to other children, and experiencing a change of seasons. Remind your child to regularly wash their hands and avoid touching their eyes, face, and mouth to help prevent spread of all viruses. And remember, if your child is sick, they should stay home. Dr. Duke also encourages having children vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza. Preventing illness and minimizing the severity of disease can help keep kids healthy and in school.
“While this information can seem a bit overwhelming, I think the most important thing a caregiver can do is set a positive tone for the new school year. Using encouraging language and reminding children of the things they are excited about – seeing their friends, learning new things – helps to set the foundation for a positive day and school year,” she said.