A new school year is quickly approaching, and while you probably have supply lists and bus schedules in hand, there are a few other things parents should tackle to get a head start on the back-to-school season. Prepare kids for the best school year yet by handling these important tasks that sometimes are overlooked during the hectic summer.
Before the school year starts, begin building a routine so children can adjust properly. This means structuring activities so kids know what to expect, including healthy meals at the same time each day and a regular bedtime.
Getting enough sleep is critical to students’ well-being and ability to learn, says Dr. Suresh Kotagal, a pediatric sleep expert at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center. He suggests establishing a bedtime routine before school starts to help children fall asleep and get a good night’s rest. He adds that children rest better if they skip caffeine after dinner, get regular exercise, turn off electronic devices an hour before bedtime, and silence phones so text messages or alerts don’t disrupt sleep.
Dr. Robert Jacobson, Mayo Clinic Children’s Center pediatrician and vaccine specialist, advises parents to ensure their child has recommended vaccinations and to be aware of changes to those recommendations. He suggests parents contact their family physician or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online registry to stay informed of the recommended school admission vaccine requirements for their child.
For example, children can now be vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), at age 11, rather than having to wait until they are 16 years of age. What’s more, some vaccines are now more easily administered. Jacobson says, “We’ve combined the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with the chickenpox vaccine so a single dose will cover all four of those diseases.”
If your child is starting a new school or after-school program, you may be required to supply medical records or vaccination forms. Doctor’s offices should be able to supply this to you at no charge simply by calling or stopping by and filling out a request, just make sure to allow a week or more for processing.
By reviewing this record you can also verify if your child is up-to-date on vaccinations and wellness visits. “It’s very easy to fall behind and a simple phone call to your primary care practitioner will assure you that your children are up-to-date or whether you need to make an appointment,” says Jacobson.
Heading back to school is exciting and a little nerve-wracking. For some children, it can fuel anxiety, which parents can help get ahead of by taking proactive measures.
“Some kids are more anxious than others, and transitions like going back to school can be more difficult for them,” says Dr. Stephen Whiteside, a psychiatrist with the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center. “Talking to them and preparing them ahead of time by doing things such as visiting the schools and meeting teachers can be beneficial.”
One reason a child may have anxiety about heading back to school is he or she experienced bullying previously. Mayo Clinic Children’s Center psychologist Dr. Bridget Biggs says bullying comes in many forms: physical, verbal, emotional, social and online. Biggs says creating a culture of respect in and out of the classroom is key to bullying prevention.
Before school starts, ask your child about their concerns. Learn about what happened and discuss how to respond if it happens again in the new school year (for example, walk away or get help from a trusted adult or peer). Build up your child’s self-esteem so they have the confidence to handle difficult situations. Finally, reach out to teachers to build a team mentality.
By taking a few proactive steps now, both parents and children can be well prepared for the start of a great new school year. For more tips on back-to-school and pediatric health, visit us at mayoclinic.org.