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Pediatrician John O'Reilly offers 5 tips for helping your child start the school year right

August 16, 2022
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Back to school can be exciting time for many kids and their parents.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about having a healthy and fun school year and starting your back-to-school planning early will help your child have a successful year.

As much as we’d love for COVID-19 to be over and done with, protecting your child from COVID is still a high priority this year.

After over two years of the pandemic, safety measures like mask wearing, handwashing, and social distancing should still be practiced during the school year as appropriate for community conditions.

Here are five back to school tips for kids:

1. ENSURE YOUR CHILD IS PROTECTED AGAINST COVID-19

“Above all else, the most important thing that you can do to help your child have a healthy school year is to get them protected against COVID-19 and all other vaccine-preventable illnesses,” says Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of General Pediatrics, Baystate Children’s Hospital.

Tens of millions of people have gotten the COVID-19 vaccines, and they have been shown to be safe effective in children. Vaccines will help prevent your children from getting hospitalized with COVID-19 and suffering the severe COVID-19 complications, including MIS-C and long COVID.

2. CHECK THEIR SCHOOL’S COVID-19 POLICIES, IF ANY

Parents should also check in with their child’s school about what the COVID-19 related-policies will be for the upcoming year. How the school will handle masking, social distancing, indoor ventilation, illnesses, absences, and testing will be important to know in advance. Parents should have a backup plan for how they will care for their child should they be unable to attend school due to illness.

3. DEVELOP HEALTHY ROUTINES

Parents can start to get their children ready for school by getting them into a healthy routine.

Stick to a Good Sleep Schedule

Sleep is medicine for your child’s brain, so you should start to get them back into a good sleep cycle by mid-August.

“Children need between 8 to 12 hours of sleep a night depending on their age,” advises Dr. O’Reilly Getting your child into a good bedtime routine is essential to getting them adequate sleep.

Limit Screen Time

You can help to get their brain getting ready to go to sleep by shutting off screens an hour before you want them to be asleep. Have your child incorporate relaxing activities such as showering, reading, or drawing in that hour before bed to get their brain into a calm state.

Encourage Them to Read

You want to get your kids’ brains back in the school routine by including time for reading and other school related activities during their summer vacation.

Consider regular trips to the library and the museums to help make reading and learning a fun part of their summer vacation. Helping your child become a fluent reader will help them achieve school success, so add some quiet time for reading into every day.

Setting up their study spaces at home before school starts will help them be ready for the work ahead. Help your kids personalize their study space so they’ll be comfortable when homework time comes.

4. NUTURE THEIR EMOTIONAL HEALTH

For many kids the transition back to school can be stressful and anxiety producing.

Helping your child’s emotional health over the summer will help get them ready for school.

Simple mindfulness techniques such as breathing, meditation, and yoga can easily be incorporated into your child’s day. The Sesame Street “Belly Breathe with Elmo” YouTube video can help even the youngest child with emotional regulation.

Like any sport, you want to practice before you get into a stressful situation, so create times in the day where your child can practice relaxation and mindfulness.

If your child’s stress level, anxiety, or other emotional issues are significant, talk to your pediatrician about arranging some behavioral health supports. Getting supports in place before the stress of school and before any crisis arrives will really help your child succeed.

5. KEEPING ACTIVE IS KEY

Exercise is an important part of keeping your child’s brain and body healthy. Making an exercise routine in midafternoon will not only help your child sleep better at night but it will also help your child be more focused for homework and schoolwork. Starting the exercise routine now will help establish their afterschool exercise time when school begins.

SCHEDULE A VISIT WITH YOUR CHILD’S PEDIATRICIAN

Now is the time to contact your pediatrician and to work with your child’s health team to get your child ready for school.

Students entering kindergarten, seventh grade, and tenth grade will require vaccinations. All children should have a yearly physical and if you missed a child’s physical during the pandemic, now is a great time to catch up and get them ready for school.

Kids with chronic diseases such as asthma, allergies, or diabetes all need to have medications ready for school. Contact your pediatrician about those medications and any forms that may be required for your child to have those medications at school.

Your kids may still be in in full vacation mode, but summer vacation is the best time for parents to start planning how you can help your child have a healthy and successful school year.

Learn more about pediatrics at Baystate Health.

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