Advice From Our Experts

Back-to-School Anxiety - Easing Into a New Environment

It’s almost fall and the new school year is here! It’s time to trade in the beach and lazy days for new pencils, early mornings and the classroom. The transition between summer break and school is not easy. To figure out how best to smooth out this transition, we asked three groups of experts to give me their opinion on what was important during this time: Susan Turkel, MD, Chief of Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a few teachers, and other moms. What we gathered from talking to this group of experts is that there are a lot of things to consider when helping your child get ready to go back to school.

Get on “School Schedule” Ahead of Time

You can get your child back on a school schedule by getting up early and going to bed at a reasonable time, a couple of weeks before the first day of school. Your child’s circadian rhythm will thank you, as will their teacher when your child is bright-eyed and ready to learn in class.

Help Ease Anxiety of New Surroundings

If your child had a good time in school with a solid group of friends, liked their teacher, etc. the year before, they will likely have a smoother transition back to school than a child who had a rough time. If there are problems try to address them as they arise. For example, if your child begins to complain of a headache or stomachache and they appear fine, they may be trying to take a “sick day.” If this happens to talk to your child and try to get to the root of the problem.

Health Comes First

Back to school season is a good time of year for your child’s yearly physical and eye exam. If your child is playing sports, now is a good time to get that sports physical form filled out. It is very important to tell the school nurse about any allergies to food or medicine your child has. Also, send your child to school with some hand sanitizer in their backpack and teach them about washing their hands.

What to Do If Your Child Gets Sick

If your child does get sick here are some ways to keep them and their classmates safe.

  • Remind your child to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze.
  • Rest and plenty of fluids is the fastest and best way to get over a cold and flu.
  • If your child has a fever, is vomiting or having diarrhea, keep them at home and contact their pediatrician.

Encourage a Healthy Diet

A balanced breakfast is the most important step of the day, so make sure your child is up early enough to have breakfast. A balanced breakfast is one that is high in protein and keeps your child’s energy high so they perform well in the classroom. Examples of a balanced breakfast include:

  • Oatmeal (not pre-flavored) with fruit and milk
  • Eggs with whole-grain toast and a piece of fruit
  • Whole-grain cereal (low sugar content) with milk and fruit

For lunch, pack healthy meals with protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates usually incorporate whole grains like granola bars, whole grain bread, whole-grain crackers and fresh fruit, like apples. Avoid sugary drinks and desserts that might cause a blood sugar crash right after lunch. Blood sugar crashes can make your child sleepy and less able to focus in class. Sugary drinks and desserts can also contribute to tooth decay and may also cause unwanted weight gain that can put your child at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Instead, try to manage their sweet tooth with more “whole” foods, like fresh fruit or fruit leather that has been made without added sugar. It has lots of fiber that will keep your child feeling full longer. For drinks, try water or milk. Water keeps your child hydrated and feeling alert. Milk gives a boost of protein and calcium for energy and strong bones. If your child absolutely must have something flavored to drink, try a zero-calorie liquid flavor enhancer for water, which you can pick up at your local market.

General Safety Reminders

This one is near and dear to my heart. Talk to your kids about:

  • Not speaking to strangers or “tricky people”.
  • Walking safely to and from school or the bus stop. For example, Francesca from the Injury Prevention Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles wrote about pedestrian safety here.
  • Staying away from drugs and alcohol.
  • Bullying prevention. Gloria, my fellow RN Remedies blogger, wrote about how to prevent bullying here.

Introduce School to Little Ones

This applies mostly to kids in kindergarten. Dr. Turkel highly recommends the book “The Bernstein Bears Go to School” to help your child prepare for their big day. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas to get the school year off to a great start! Be sure you talk to your kids about their school day, every day. Stay involved in their world. The insight they will give you is priceless and that will give you a foundation to have a close relationship with them.