Back to school tips for kids of all ages

Summertime is great isn’t it? Firefly catching, s’mores eating, late-night fireworks, family barbecues, swimming until your skin turns wrinkly, and sleeping in. As August rolls around and the back-to-school clothes, notebooks, and ready-made lunch options flood the aisles, you slowly start to plan for the new academic year.

Some parents are eager for the start of school. Getting back into a routine is a relief for some while others love the lazy days of summer with its freedom and spontaneity. Understanding your nature in this way will help you get your kids ready for school. If you’re naturally a routine-lover, enforcing the new routine of getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier over the week or two before school makes sense and will be easier for you than will a parent for whom routine is a hassle not a joy. Either way, by the time school starts, like it or not, a new routine will need to be in place and waiting until the night before can make it tough for kids of all ages.

Switch your child’s sleep and wake routines

It’s the wake-up time that matters most. For every hour that your child’s sleep routine is currently off, it will take four to seven days to adapt. In other words, if your child is getting up at 9 a.m. and will need to get up at 7 a.m. for school, it will take 8 to 14 days for the new routine be in place and for your child to wake up well-rested. For teenagers, who might be waking at 11 a.m. and will need to get up at 6 a.m., that five-hour switch will take a couple of weeks.

Here are the steps:

  1. Wake your child at the new wake time (the time they need for school in a couple weeks). This generates a sleep debt since they won’t have slept enough and will make them sleepier earlier at night.
  2. If you are a routine-oriented parent: Move the bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes per day until you reach the new bedtime (See the How much sleep does my child need? chart)
  3. If you are a less routine-oriented parent: Watch closely for “tired” clues in your younger child and adjust the bedtime. Most kids will start falling asleep earlier within three days of the adjusted wake time. Note: Restlessness, agitation, and hyperactivity may mean you missed the sleepy clues.

Even though it may take four to seven days for each hour of time that the wake-up time adjusts for your child to feel rested when she wakes up, the bedtime will likely adjust sooner.

Bully-proof your child

Of course, you can’t actually bully-proof your child but you can give your kids of all ages scripts to use in a variety of circumstances that will empower them. Before school starts back up, role play with kids of all ages and all abilities to not just bully-proof them but encourage them to be an active bystander when they see other kids being picked on. Here are some age-appropriate scripts to practice with your child.

  • Preschoolers/Early elementary
    • If someone is making you feel sad or bad, or says. “I don’t want to play with you,” you can say, “I don’t like what you said. I’m going to play over there instead.” Then walk away. Or you could also say, “I don’t like what you did. I’m going over there.” And walk away.
    • If you see someone else whose feelings are being hurt and you want to help them, you can say to the kid being hurt. “Come play with me right now.” Or “I want to play with you. Come here.
  • Mid-elementary
    • When someone makes you feel sad or bad about yourself or is picking on you, you can say, “I have something else to do now. See you later,” and walk away. Let your children now they can talk about their feelings later with you or their pediatrician. If the same person keeps at it, he or she will stop pestering you if you keep ignoring them and walking away.
    • If you’re uncomfortable with how someone else is being treated, step in and say to the person being treated poorly, “Let’s go do something else together”. If this is happening among your friends, you may feel comfortable saying, “Stop it, I don’t like the way you are talking to _______. It makes me feel bad.” If they don’t stop then ask the person being treated badly leave with you. If they choose not to, you can say, “I don’t like the way this feels, I’m leaving now.”
  • Middle school/High school
    • You can be stronger with your friends now in middle school if they are treating you or other people poorly. Say “Stop it. Now. Talk to me (or the other kid’s name) nicer than that”. If they get all snooty or tease you about it, you can make a joke, stand firm or walk away. But if it keeps happening, think about whether you want to be friends with that person.
    • If the person treating you poorly isn’t a friend, just walk away and ignore them. If they are treating someone else poorly rescue the person being treated poorly. Engaging the bully won’t help.

Reduce first-day jitters

Whether it’s the first day of a new school or a new grade, many kids worry. Some worry about where their classroom is or where they will put their books, while others worry about whether they are smart enough to handle the work that third grade or seventh grade or tenth grade demands. Regardless of age, new school years bring new worries for many kids. Here are some strategies to help calm those anxious minds:

  • Do a dry run. Most schools are open the week before school starts as teachers are prepping their classrooms. Take some time to wander the halls, find your child’s locker, check out the cafeteria, find the nearest bathroom, whatever it takes to get familiar with the physical space and reduce the worries of day one.
  • Pull out some of your child’s best work from last school year. Remind your child of his strengths as a student. Whether they are an artist, musician, writer, or athlete, find the evidence from last school year that can reassure them that they are ready for this next step in the academic, social, and physical ladders of life.
  • Follow the bus route, walk to school, or ride bikes together: whatever the route to school, practice! Doing something in advance builds confidence and makes it easier the next time around.
  • Finish summer homework early. Don’t leave the summer reading, essay writing, or math packet to the last minute. By finishing it a week or more ahead of time you reduce anxiety the weekend before school starts.
  • New school means making new friends. Try to connect with other kids before school starts (no matter your child’s age) so the first day of school starts with at least one familiar face. For middle and high school kids, ask the school if there is a mentor program, a buddy system, or an orientation time for new students where they can meet current students before the first day of classes. For younger kids, school playgrounds are great places to hang out the week before school to meet other families.

Final words of advice: Each new school year is a new beginning for you and your child. Try to leave behind last year’s baggage and successes and allow this year to start fresh. The beauty and magic of childhood is the fact that kids are constantly changing, growing, and developing. Last year was last year. This year can hold the promise of joy and success for every child and every parent, too!

– Dr. Molly O’Shea, a board-certified Beaumont pediatrician, offers traditional medicine in non-traditional ways including newborn home visits and emailing parents directly. She has practiced pediatrics for nearly 30 years and was the “Ask the Pediatrician” columnist for the Detroit News for many years. A journal editor for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she also organized the AAP’s national continuing education programming for pediatricians. Dr. Molly loves cooking, traveling and spending time with her family.

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