Back to School!

By Dr. Bailey Alford

Summer is coming to an end which means back to school for children across the country. For most children this means new grade, new teachers, new friends, and maybe even a new school. Here are some tips to make the transition easier.

Easing first day anxiety

It is not uncommon for children to feel first day jitters, especially if they will be attending a new school. It is a good idea to attend all functions held at the school before the school year starts like open house or orientation. This gives your child the opportunity to become familiar with the new setting and see where to go on the first day. Remind your child that they are not alone and that there are a lot of children who feel nervous on the first day of school. Teachers know this as well and are overly accommodating during this transition. If you are able, drive your child to school on the first day to be there for support or find a friend they can ride the bus with. It is also a good idea to start your child on school schedule sleep and wake times a week before school starts so their bodies are ready to transition from the relaxed days of summer.

Establishing healthy eating and sleeping routines

Starting out the school day with a healthy nutritious breakfast is essential for children and adolescents. Food fuels the brain and without it your child’s academic performance may suffer. Studies have shown that children who eat a nutritious breakfast consisting of protein have better concentration and more energy. Lunch during school hours is just as important. Most schools send home lunch menus so it is a good idea to go over them with your child to decide if there are days a packed lunch from home would be preferred. Skipping meals can lead to poor school performance and behavior. Getting enough sleep at night is also crucial to your child’s academic success. Young children and adolescents should be getting at least 8-10 uninterrupted hours of sleep per night for optimal functioning. Establish good sleep hygiene routines with your child consisting of established nighttime routines, limiting screen time (cell phones, TV, tablets, computers) at least 1 hour before bedtime, and encouraging a dark and quiet sleep space.

Developing good study habits

It is important as a parent to have a good relationship with your child’s teacher and reach out for feedback periodically. To help your child achieve academic success it is important to create a quiet place to study or complete homework after school that is free from distractions. Be available during homework time to provide assistance if needed and help your child stay on task with checklists and timers. If you notice your child is struggling with a particular subject or having difficulty focusing or staying on task, share your concerns with both the school teacher and your child’s pediatrician so this can be addressed with extra tutoring and screening for learning disorders or ADHD.

Recognizing the signs of bullying

No parent wants to send their child to school and be worried about their safety, whether physically or mentally, however bullying does occur and it important parents know the signs to look for. Bullying can be both in person and online. The emergence of social media has led to the term cyberbullying which is bullying through technology and not physical or face-to-face. It can be a stressful and emotional realization that your child is either being bullied, or doing the bullying. It is important to monitor your child’s online presence whether it be social media accounts, cell phone and texting conversations, or emails. Look for signs your child may be being bullied including social withdrawal or exaggerated separation anxiety. If you have suspicions that your child is being bullied at school, alert your child’s teacher or school administration immediately. Talk to your child about how to respond to bullies by standing up for themselves while avoiding confrontation. If you suspect or are notified that your child is doing the bullying, make sure you have a serious conversation with your child about empathy and considering the feelings of others around them. Make sure your child has positive role models around them who also show kindness and respect towards others. Use positive reinforcement and praise when you see your child caring for others.

Next month’s column will be in honor of childhood cancer awareness month.