Now that summer break is quickly ending and the back-to-school season is approaching, families may be anxious about the return to school. Though the thought of preparing for school might seem daunting, a few tips provided by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts can help ease the process.
Make a Routine
One of the biggest challenges that most families can relate to is getting through the door in the morning. Between getting ready for work and getting your child ready for school, the early hours can be quite a battle.
Making a visual schedule can help young children easily understand the tasks that they need to complete. Instead of using spoken words, parents can print out pictures or words and place them on an area easily accessible for their child. This allows children to understand expectations, and they can check off the tasks as they complete them. Creating a visual schedule helps with compliance and calmness in the morning.
Families can also work on practicing their morning and evening routines. Parents can help their children get ready for school by working on waking up early in the morning and going through the routines that need to be done before they can leave for school. Then, in the evening, parents can work on after-school routines, which can include winding down with a moment of silence before working on making a healthy snack or starting homework. At bedtime, families can work on their nighttime routine by taking time to wind down with a book or turning off electronics.
Young children in elementary school might be nervous about starting school, so setting up a school tour can allow them to feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. They can learn where the classrooms, nurse’s office, and bathrooms are during the tour. That way, when school starts, they already know where they need to go.
Work on Communication
Listening to your child throughout the day is key to building trust and open communication. Families can foster open communication by being a good listener when their child is talking about their thoughts and being ready to talk about difficult topics.
It is important that families take the time to talk about bullying and school safety. Bullying can occur as direct attacks (name-calling, teasing, hitting) or indirect attacks (spreading rumors, causing rejection) both in-person and online, so it is incredibly important that parents teach their children how to respond to bullying properly and safely.
“When talking to our children, discuss that the first line of defense is to ignore the bully. ... Our next steps are to assess our child’s wellbeing and talk to the school,” says Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Another vital topic that families need to discuss with their children is school safety. Schools usually have multiple drills throughout the year, and these can be scary for a young child. Parents can tell their child the expectations that they need to follow during these drills and reassure them that these procedures are in place to keep them safe.
Don’t Forget a Health Check Up
Pediatrician offices are often packed right before the school year as many families need to catch up on important vaccines in order to return to school, or your child may need a back-to-school physical. These pediatrician visits are important because they look at various aspects of your child’s health, including:
- Learning and behavior
- Nutrition and exercise
- Vision and hearing
- Sports physicals for athletes
Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. If your child has not received the vaccine before school starts, it’s recommended to talk to your child’s pediatrician about any questions around the COVID-19 vaccine for children and teens and how it can protect them from serious illness or hospitalization.
Get Back to Regular Sleep Schedules
When the summer is ending, it’s incredibly important for families to work on returning to a normal sleep schedule. Start by limiting screen time back to two hours a day.
Sleep deprivation can have vastly negative effects on both adults and children.
“Keeping a consistent sleep schedule to get adequate sleep makes a huge difference in a child’s health and academic success,” says Luis Ortiz, M.D., a sleep medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children's.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a study that shows that kids transition to kindergarten better if they regularly get at least 10 hours of sleep. Additionally, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and National Sleep Foundation recommend the following for children and teens’ sleep:
- 5-year-olds should get 10-13 hours of sleep
- School-age children (6 to 13 years old) should get 9 to 11 hours of sleep
- Teenagers (14 to 18 years old) should get 8-10 hours of sleep
To return to a healthy sleep schedule, Ortiz recommends “moving the bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes every four to seven days” instead of using the cold-turkey method.
Visit these links for more tips on getting your child ready for back to school and mentally and physically preparing for school.