"This article was previously published on Atrium Health's Daily Dose."
At the start of the school year, parents can check off one important item from their to-do list: how to keep their kids healthy. Atrium Health Levine Children's pediatricians are sharing tips on everything from nutrition to sleep to anxiety, so parents can feel prepared as their kids head back to school.
Getting your kids ready for school this fall goes beyond preparing them for the first day. From getting the right amount of sleep to eating the right foods, Atrium Health Levine Children's pediatricians are sharing how you can set your child up for a healthy, successful year.
How to Help Ease School Anxiety
"School anxiety or nervousness is very common among my patients," says Dr. Chpryelle Carr, pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Rea Village Pediatrics. "The most important thing parents can do is to acknowledge the fear. Ignoring anxiety or stress related to school can often make their feelings worse."
- Look for things that your child is interested in. If your child is a budding artist, for example, talk with your child about fun art projects you think they will do at school. Discussing any concerns with their teacher or school can also help ease nervousness. See if you can meet the art teacher or visit the art room in your child's school before school starts.
- Discuss what your kids are nervous about and ways to work through it. If it's getting on the bus, for example, go over the bus route and walk to the bus stop before school starts to help your child become familiar and comfortable. Being there during the initial encounter can help alleviate some anxiety when they face situations alone.
- Let your child know they are not alone with their feelings. "I encourage parents to discuss their own school anxiety with their children and ways they worked through it," says Carr. Your pediatrician is another great resource. They often have recommendations on books, groups and articles that can be helpful for parents and children.
At the end of the day, acknowledging and easing any anxiety can make the school experience enjoyable for all. Ready this article for more ways to help ease back-to-school jitters.
How to Provide a Nutritional Breakfast and Lunch
For breakfast, a protein-rich meal helps children focus and keeps blood sugar more stable. "Many parents struggle with finding protein sources when the morning is rushed," says Dr. Rhonda Patt, pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Charlotte Pediatrics in SouthPark.
Nut butters, yogurt, milk and eggs are good options in the morning and should be combined with whole grains and fruit.
For lunch, sandwiches with whole grain bread, plus a serving of fruits or veggies, is a great plan. For kids who don't like sandwiches, consider string cheese or other low-fat cheese or yogurt to bump up the protein.
How to Prepare a Child with a Medical Condition for School
"If your child has a medical condition, it's important to think about how this may impact your child's school day or the possible risks for your child in the school environment," says Patt.
- Educate your child. Most importantly, your child needs to have a good understanding of his or her health conditions: signs and symptoms of worsening and reasons to go to the teacher or a nurse. With each year of maturity, this part becomes more relevant as the child becomes his or her own health advocate.
- Touch base with the school nurse. Your school nurse can talk to you about what resources and procedures are already in place at the school for children with similar conditions. If your child has a rare condition, the nurse may request educational materials or a more detailed action plan from your child's doctor.
- Refill medications. If your child requires medicine during school hours – either on a routine basis or only in case of an emergency – make sure to refill the medication left at school. Note: schools will not administer medications that are past their expiration date.
- Complete necessary forms. Schools will not administer medications – even over-the-counter medications – without instructions from the child's doctor. Many schools have specific forms that are required for certain conditions or medications.
- Schedule your child an annual checkup. "Annual wellness visits are important for all children, but they are particularly vital for children with chronic conditions. These visits provide an opportunity for the child, parents and the healthcare team to make a plan for the following year," says Patt.
How to Keep Kids Active After School
"As classroom requirements increase, PE and recess often get pushed aside," says Dr. Stephanie Sherrill, pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Suburban Pediatrics. "Many kids also face a mountain of homework after school, so it can be difficult (but not impossible) to fit in fitness."
Here's how you can make sure your kids stay fit after sitting all day at school:
- Keep your own fitness level up. It's easy to go home after a long day and just 'veg out.' Exercise can be great for stress relief and is key to managing many chronic diseases. It can be as easy as walking, riding a bike, bowling or putting on some good tunes and dancing around the house! Yoga is another great family activity that can be accessed online for free and quickly for those with time constraints.
- Go on an outdoor adventure. Here are some easy ways to get a breath of fresh air and have some fun:
- Check out a local greenway for a walk or bike ride or one of our great state parks for a hike.
- In the fall, complete a 'maize maze.' There are several in the Charlotte area.
- Try letterboxing. Great for young kids, this activity involves giving kids clues that lead them to a box that you've hidden outdoors. The box contains a notebook and a rubber stamp that they can make an imprint of in their own personal book. In turn, they leave an impression of their personal stamp in the box's notebook to prove they found the box. "I have done this with my own kids while on vacation at the beach, in the mountains and at their grandmother's house, and it's always a hit!" says Sherrill.
- Get sporty. From soccer to swimming to cheer, getting kids interested in sports not only builds fitness but also teaches them teamwork and self-confidence. Check out local programs and parks with seasonal as well as year-round sports, like pickle ball. It may take a while for your children to find their passion but getting out there is the first step.
"Bottom line, your kids want to spend time with you, so get active with them. You'll get as much out of it as your kids do," says Sherrill.
How to Avoid Common Colds and Illnesses
"Let's face it – going to school exposes kids to a lot of germs," says Dr. Ana Vega, pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Piedmont Pediatrics. "While there's no way to completely prevent them from picking up a bug, you can reduce their chances of getting and spreading common illnesses."
Here are some simple steps:
- Teach them to cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing
- Encourage handwashing and hand sanitizing
- Make sure they get an annual flu vaccine
- Keep children home for 24 hours if they have a fever
- Vaccinate children five years or older against COVID-19
How to Set the Stage for Academic Success
"Finding success in the classroom starts at home, and you can help your child reach their full potential," says Vega.
Here's how parents can step in to help their kids step up:
- Ensure your child has breakfast daily
- Make sure they get a good night's sleep of 9 to 12 hours, depending on your child's age
- Set limits on electronics during the school week (no more than two hours per day), and require older kids turn in cellphones to you before going to bed
- Review homework with your child
- Read with them daily
- See that they get daily physical activity, including organized sports when they're old enough
- Encourage them to always try their best
How to Help Kids Get a Good Night's Rest
"Many children struggle with adjusting to a new sleep schedule when school starts in the fall," says Betsy Armentrout, MD, pediatrician at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist's Ford, Simpson, Lively and Rice Pediatrics. "This can be even more difficult for teens, whose natural sleep cycle may be to stay up late and sleep in the next day."
Sleep requirements differ from person to person, but there are some general guidelines. Most school-age children will need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep per night, while most teens will require 8 to 10 hours.
Here's how you can help them get the hours they need as they leave summer behind.
- Gradually shift a child's sleep cycle over a couple weeks instead of making the change all in one night. It may be helpful to figure out what time a child will need to get up for school, then come up with a bedtime that will allow an appropriate amount of sleep. Then, over two weeks before school starts, gradually move the child's bedtime closer to the goal so the transition will be less of a shock.
- Adjust bedtimes as a child's sleep requirements change. Children who are falling asleep during class or in the car, or who have difficulty waking up in the morning, likely need more sleep. It is often best for adolescents to avoid afternoon naps, which tend to interfere with falling asleep at night.
- Ensure that your children have an appropriate sleep environment. An ideal sleep environment is dark, quiet (possibly with a fan or white noise machine) and a comfortable temperature. It's best to avoid electronics and screens in the bedroom at night. TV or video games before bed can cause difficulty falling asleep. It's best to charge phones or tablets in a common living area so they aren't being used after bedtime.
- Be aware that difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep can be a sign of a medical problem like depression, anxiety or sleep apnea. If your child has difficulty with sleep or seems tired despite getting an appropriate amount, it's worth discussing with your pediatrician.
Helping your children be their best can be hard work. Our pediatricians are here to help – all the way from kindergarten to high school graduation and beyond. Learn more about our pediatrics services and find a pediatrician near you.