Throughout our communities, students of all ages will be returning to school in the next few weeks. It’s a time of year when stress levels can soar with increased activities and back-to-school jitters.
There are the added commitments of end-of-summer events, last minute getaways, shopping for those “right” supplies and clothes, start-up of extracurricular activities, and the emotional anxiety that often comes with changes in sleep times, homework, new teachers and friends.
It’s no wonder this time of the year ranks as one of the highest when it comes to stress and anxiety, for students and parents alike.
As a medical physician and mom — I understand. Here are effective actions you can take now and into the fall to help reduce back-to-school angst.
What You Need To Know: About planning a healthy back-to-school transition
Now is the time to prepare the family and students for the upcoming transition. Children greatly benefit from knowing what to expect.
Communication and planning: Schedule a family meeting within the next few days where everyone has the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns on the upcoming back-to-school transition. Make it a team effort — keeping the tone fun and upbeat to facilitate (lively) interaction.
Also, consider utilizing a calendar that will not only mark back-to-school and related activities, but also pleasurable events — school dances, the upcoming days off and breaks such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Place this calendar in a well-visited location so it it is in sight by everyone, remains “relevant” and activities are not forgotten.
And schedule follow-up discussions to address issues and checkoff items: school supplies; school clothing or uniforms; backpacks; upcoming appointments (i.e doctors, back-to-school night, parent-teacher meetings, shopping); extra-curricular activities and safety; and planning healthy routines (i.e., eating balanced meals, daily physical activities and a sound sleep schedule).
Health check-ups, immunizations: The school or the school district’s website should provide good insight on health policies and procedures. State laws establish vaccination requirements for school children and mechanisms for enforcement — so make sure to know what they are and also speak with your child’s doctor to ensure they are current.
Immunizations are important — in fact, August is National Immunization Awareness Month as a reminder that people (of all ages) should have their vaccine records up-to-date.
When children are not vaccinated, they are at a greater risk of developing serious illnesses such as hepatitis B, influenza, measles, mumps and meningitis. Unvaccinated children (and adults) can also spread these vaccine-preventable diseases to others in the classroom and the community, young children who are not yet fully vaccinated or those with weakened immune systems.
And while immunization schedules can be confusing, you don’t have to go at it alone. In addition to resources available online from your state’s health department and the school, your child’s doctor is a great resource.
Healthy vision is important for all aspects of students’ lives. The good news is that eye exams allow for early identification and treatment of a child’s vision problem. For that reason, some physicians recommend yearly eye exams, whereas others feel that every other year is adequate if no vision correction is required (but, yearly exams for those with eyeglasses or contact lenses).
Healthy eat/sleep/exercise routines: Each day, at least 30 minutes to an hour of activity, a balanced diet and adequate sleep will go a long way in supporting overall well-being. Plan now for good back-to-school habits:
Science confirms physical activity is associated with many health benefits in school-aged children and our youth. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend children and adolescents do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. As parents, we can set a positive example by leading an active lifestyle. And with increased activities and hectic demands, consider making physical activity part of your family’s daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together.
Start every day with a healthy breakfast. When our children eat a healthy breakfast, they perform better in the classroom because they have better concentration, problem-solving skills, endurance, hand-eye coordination and increased strength for tasks.
Lunchtime requires some planning and creativity to ensure balanced meals that include more fruit and veggies as well as proteins. Keep students actively involved in the selection process (grocery store visits and in the kitchen) — it is an investment that reaps profitable dividends while learning about wise choices in the process.
• Re-sync sleep times a week or two before school starts to avoid mayhem on the first day. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has published the following guidelines for recommended sleep hours among children: 3- to 5-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours; 6- to 12-year-olds need 9 to 12 hours; and teens need 8 to 10 hours. Once school starts, and throughout the school year, the flurry of fun activities — and homework — can impinge into necessary sleep time. As parents, we must help our kids schedule and manage these and create healthy sleep hygiene habits that will hopefully last them a lifetime.
Safety in and out of school
The Academy of American Pediatrics website is a good safety resource addressing each of the following in great detail for back-to-school. Here is a quick list for review while gathering more specific information:
• Backpacks should have wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Make sure to limit its weight to no more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight — and that it is carried with both shoulder straps.
• Younger children should always walk to school with an adult. As they get older, it may be acceptable to walk by themselves, but a buddy system is always preferable.
• Identify a safe route with intersections that have safety guards even if it means a slightly longer walk. Remind children to never push, shove or chase near the street.
• Remind children never to take rides (gifts or food) from strangers or anyone not on the approved list that has been discussed at home.
• When riding a bus, be sure children arrive at the stop early, take a seat when they board and always stay seated quietly (with arms and hands inside the bus) until the bus comes to a safe stop.
• For students who ride bikes to school, ensure they wear a helmet and other appropriate gear that meets safety standards. Research indicates that a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent.
• Review understandings about bullying, including what it is, what to do (including saying stop and walking away) and that if it does not stop, report it to a school teacher or administrator as well as mom and dad (that day).
• And for our college students — care packages are always welcomed!
Gratefulness – Living in the Moment. As summer days come to a close, it is important for parents and caregivers to reflect with their families on their joys, reflect on experiences they are grateful for while planning ahead for a successful school year.
Whether your students are starting pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, elementary, middle school or entering college – communication and planning is vital in the transition.
Also, consider a special back-to-school family celebration dinner (at home or at a favorite dining place) a few days prior to start dates. It is a wonderful time to take time together. A lovely idea too is to write a personal loving card or note to each of your students with an encouraging word (place it on their pillow).
Shifting from summer to school can bring added stress and jitters with anticipation of what is ahead. Refreshing positive thoughts and encouraging everyone to enjoy the new adventures in this transition is valuable – but most of all, reminding them family will be with them every step of the way is paramount.
Cheer’s to a wonderful new school year.
Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to email@example.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.