School supplies line the store shelves, sweaters have replaced swimwear on the racks, football is on TV, and many parents are getting ready to send their kids back to school. As parents start to transition from summer to the school year, it’s important they set their child up for success by beginning to prepare now for the new routine.
“It’s normal for kids to feel both excitement and anxiety as the new school year approaches,” said Dr. Ben Danielson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. “When parents focus on the positives, keep their own worries in check, and get organized for the new beginning, it helps their child approach the school year with confidence.”
Here are Danielson’s tips for how parents can prepare for a successful year of learning, growth, hard work and fun.
Start with the basics: sleep, health and nutrition
Many parents relax bedtime over the summer months, but now is a good time to transition back to a school night bedtime. Move it 30 minutes earlier every three days until a child is getting the recommended sleep for their age, based on when they’ll need to wake up on school days. Aim for 10 to 13 hours of sleep each night for preschoolers, 9 to 11 hours for school-age kids, and 8 to 10 hours for teens, said Danielson.
Parents should also check to be sure their child has had the required immunizations for the current school year. Danielson said that students who aren’t in compliance with required vaccines may be kept out of school if a disease epidemic happens.
If a child has asthma, diabetes, food allergies or other special healthcare needs, parents will also want to update their care plan and get extra medicines or supplies for use at school.
Middle school and high school students who take part in school sports need an annual sports physical. Parents should be sure to schedule their child’s physical so they’re ready to play when the season starts.
Fall is a great time to also refocus on healthy eating habits. Parents should have their child join them at the grocery store to pick out delicious and healthy breakfast, lunch and after-school snack supplies. Danielson advises parents to aim for lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Parents should also avoid packaged lunchbox foods that are on sale this time of year – many have added sugar, lots of sodium and little nutritional value. Shop the outer aisles of the grocery store instead, where parents will find fresher foods.
One way for parents to create excitement for the year is to involve their child in gathering school supplies and other essentials. If a child is in need of a new backpack, parents should keep safety in mind and steer toward a choice with two wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Encourage them to wear both straps so that the weight of the load is distributed evenly, said Danielson. Parents should also not forget to pick out an insulated lunchbox to keep food at the right temperature, and a BPA-free water bottle to keep their student hydrated.
Another key to success is organization. Danielson said parents should talk with their child about how they would like to stay organized during the year. Will they need a planner, a central calendar or a dry erase board to track assignments and events? It’s important to identify an age-appropriate system and set it up near a child’s homework station.
Tune in to feelings
Common worries students have are about making friends and finding their way around at school. Parents should take advantage of school-sponsored meet-ups, play dates or orientations so their child can practice navigating the halls, using the playground and making friends. Chatting with school staff at these events also gives a child familiarity with adults at the school.
Parents should also talk to their child about what to expect, from the plan for getting ready on school nights, to the morning routine and the daily schedule, including homework expectations. Danielson encourages parents to listen to concerns their child may have, and consider role playing to learn about worries in teacher to student or peer to peer scenarios.
Another area for parents to think about is if their child has any individual needs that should be shared with teachers and school staff. Some parents share strategies that help their child calm down, special hints about how to recognize early signs of stress in their child, or their child’s need to take frequent bathroom breaks. Some families request a way to communicate with the teacher about daily homework assignments or behavior. Danielson said partnering with a child’s school from the beginning of the year will help them be as successful as they can be.
Danielson cautions parents to not only focus on their child’s concerns, but they should also be aware of their own worries.
“It’s natural for parents to be nervous and even worried about their child heading off to school,” said Danielson. “Children tend to be very good at picking up on parents’ emotions. Being prepared and staying positive can help you feel less nervous about the impending school year, which helps your child feel calmer, too.”
Children will likely be worn out in the evenings the first couple of weeks, which may cause a back-to-school meltdown or two. If possible, parents should arrange to be available to them more than usual. Time together can ease the transition, said Danielson. Parents can consider sitting near their child as they do homework while they work through all of the forms and flyers that come home the first week of school.
Overall, a new school year is an exciting time that can be less stressful with the appropriate preparations. Parents should always remember to take a picture on the first day – it will be fun to look back on at the end of the school year as they celebrate another year of growth!