With children nationwide either already back in school or soon to be, parents are busily charting carpool schedules and bracing for homework wars.
While this can be a stressful time of year for moms and dads, it can be even more so for students. That’s why Health Net, Inc. is sharing tips to help ensure a smooth back-to-school transition for the whole family.
“It’s entirely normal for children and parents to experience a degree of stress when it’s time to start a new school year,” said Steve Blake, vice president of Clinical Operations at Managed Health Network (MHN), a subsidiary of Health Net, Inc. “The key to minimizing back-to-school stress is taking steps – before the summer ends – that will help both parents and children begin the fall semester feeling upbeat rather than anxious.”
Ten Transition Tips
Recognizing the challenges that the start of a new school year can bring, MHN’s health educators developed the following tips to make this annual passage a positive one:
- Start a sleep schedule – About a week before the first day of school, children should begin a bedtime and wake-up schedule that mirrors their impending weekday routine. Not only is it important to institute bedtime and wake-up schedules, but it’s also essential that youngsters receive recommended amounts of sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these guidelines:
Recommended Amount of Sleep
|Newborns||16-18 hours a day|
|Preschool-aged children||11-12 hours a day|
At least 10 hours a day
|Teens||9-10 hours a day|
|Adults (including the elderly)||7-8 hours a day|
- Don’t skip breakfast – While mornings can be extremely hectic, it’s crucial – particularly for youngsters – that breakfast not be sacrificed due to the morning rush. In fact, according to the National Education Association, research has shown that breakfast is the most important meal in relation to academic achievement, children’s health, cognitive development and mental health.
- Schedule checkups – This is an ideal time to make sure your child is in good physical and mental health, so children and teens should have annual medical and dental checkups. Share any concerns you have regarding your child’s physical or psychological development; your pediatrician will determine if these concerns require additional evaluation.
- Set afterschool rules – Before school starts, sit down as a family and map out the afterschool rules, including: when and where homework will be done (your house should include a distraction-free area equipped with a desk and well-stocked with school supplies); the amount of time that’s allowed for watching TV and playing games; and how many extracurricular activities – such as sports and scouts – can be juggled.
- Review and write down – The National Association of School Psychologists suggests to make it a priority to immediately review all materials sent home by the school, as these often include important information about requirements, expectations and events. As a second step, make note of any important dates in your calendar so you don’t overlook them when the time comes.
- Create a family calendar – Stay on track as a family by posting a calendar in a central area, such as the kitchen, that lists each family member’s appointments, activities, events, due dates and test dates.
- Foster organizational skills – In addition to creating a family calendar, help your child develop a personal organizational system to stay on top of assignments, tests and important dates. Possibilities include a white board, a day planner or a smart phone’s notes function.
- Provide summer closure – Ending the summer on a positive note can help lay the foundation for starting the school year on a positive note. Achieving this could range from capping off the summer with a family trip to simply hosting a backyard barbecue.
- Drop a note – At the start of the semester, drop a note to your child’s teachers, letting them know that you’re interested in receiving regular feedback regarding how your child is doing. Also be sure to attend back-to-school night and introduce yourself to the teachers.
- Assess anxiety – While some students are excited to start a new school year, others dread it to the point of debilitating anxiety. The reasons can run the gamut, from separation anxiety to previous bullying to the existence of an undiagnosed mental health issue. Parents concerned about their child’s mental health should first contact their child’s pediatrician to rule out any physical health conditions as a cause. If there are no physical issues, the next step would likely be a referral to a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or social worker.
Looking ahead to the fall semester, MHN’s Blake said, “We think it’s important to remind parents that their back-to-school to-do lists also should include paying attention to their children’s mental health.”