As the new school year approaches, there may be some anxiety for parents and students as they prepare. Summer months can lead to a lack of consistent routines and it’s time to start thinking about getting back into the swing of things. Linda Fu, M.D., pediatrician at Children’s National Health System, has some advice on how to make the transition from summer vacation to school easier and less stressful for everyone.
A good sleep routine
During the summer, children may shift their bedtime, so now is the time to start getting them back into a good sleep routine. In general, it takes a day for every hour that you need to move back to the bedtime. For example, if your child is going to bed three hours later than what will be usual for the school year, then it will take three days. Sufficient sleep is important for children to mentally function at their best throughout the school day. Lack of sleep may make retaining new information difficult and even lead to behavioral issues including, somewhat counterintuitively, hyperactivity. Parents should make sure their child gets at least eight to 12 hours of sleep each night, especially younger children, who need more hours of sleep than adolescents.
Reducing screen time
Along with a good sleep routine, it’s also important to develop good screen habits before school starts. Keep screen time to two hours or less per day for school-aged children. Ideally, these limits should be applied throughout the summer.
Getting an annual physical
Another item to check off your list is making sure your child receives an annual physical exam. Children should have a health maintenance exam once a year to make sure they’re developing and growing properly and are up-to-date on all recommended vaccines. It’s important that your child is healthy to function their best throughout the school year.
Helping deal with anxiety and fears
The transition back to school can be a source of anxiety for some children. It’s important for children to be able to speak about their fears as they prepare for the school year. If your child seems anxious in the weeks before school starts, help them work through their fears by asking what they think are the most exciting and worrisome aspects of heading back to school. Attend the school’s open house so that the transition goes more smoothly, especially if your child is going to a new school or starting school for the first time. Meeting the teacher and seeing the classroom can help your child get a sense of what to expect. Let your child pick out school supplies to get him excited about going back to school.
Having a balanced diet
Children need energy to function optimally throughout the day mentally and physically. That’s why it’s important to make sure they eat breakfast every morning and have a healthy lunch. Overnight you’ve been fasting and your energy stores are low. Breakfast is needed to restore that lost energy. Healthy lunches will help maintain that energy throughout the day. The food pyramid is a good guide to follow when making your child’s lunch. The majority of what children should eat are fruits and vegetables, as well as sufficient dairy and grains.
Linda Fu, M.D., M.S., is a general pediatrician at Children’s National Health System and an associate professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Fu also serves as the director of academic development for Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health.
For more health and family-related stories, subscribe to our newsletters.