"Heading back to school after the long summer vacation can be tough on parents and students," said Anjali Rao, M.D., pediatrician at Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group. "The transition takes time, participation, creativity, and flexibility in order to get kids off to a healthy start."
Rao adds that while summer vacation is designed to give children a necessary vacation, certain challenges can arise if children are mentally "set free" during the summer months. According to Rao, anxiety, short attention spans and trouble adjusting to a new schedule and longer days are among the most common challenges, but can be easily addressed with a little pre-planning and dedication from parents.
Ease Anxiety - Children are aware of the stress that comes with school. Meeting new classmates, homework assignments and extracurricular activities bring forth new challenges and the pressure to succeed. A few weeks before school starts talk with your child about what they like about school and what they're looking forward to. Also, talk with your child about your expectations for their bedtime and morning plans, so when the time comes they aren't feeling stressed and know what is expected of them. Have your child get used to waking up to the sound of an alarm clock so they become familiar with the sound again, and consider a dry run before the first day of school to help make children comfortable.
Help Kids Stay Focused - When school is in session, children are required to stay seated for most of the day. This is a significant change from the summer months when kids bounce from activity to activity and aren't required to stay focused on one activity or sit still for long periods of time. To help prepare children, encourage them to play quiet games, puzzles and read periodically throughout the day. This will ease them back into the learning process. "It's best to not let your children lose this discipline throughout the summer," said Rao. "Check for programs at your local library too. Many host summer reading programs for kids."
Establish a Routine - Many children don't have a set schedule of activities throughout the day during summer break, which can lead to stress, frustration and in some cases behavior problems when school rolls around. Rao suggests parents try to maintain at least a loose schedule during the summer months.
"Kids like and thrive on predictability," said Rao. "There doesn't need to be a rigid schedule in place, but even the resemblance of routine a couple of days per week can help provide structure and let kids know what to expect."
Rao also suggests easing back into long days by adhering to a set bed time each night and as school draws near, a set wake up time each morning.
"Following these simple tips can help create a smooth start to the school year and get everyone off on the right foot," said Rao. "Back to school should be an exciting time for parents and children."
In the final weeks before school starts, Rao also reminds parents to make sure their child's vaccinations are up to date, which vary by age but often include Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Influenza and measles, mumps and rubella. Back-to-school dental and eye exams are also strongly encouraged.
"It is important for your child to have an annual check-up every year with their regular pediatrician. This helps to make sure that your child is growing and developing appropriately and is up to date on their immunizations," Dr. Rao says. "Even if you think that your child is up to date, vaccination recommendations from the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics are constantly being updated, so this annual checkup is still important. In addition, be sure that your child is current with their vision screenings and dental exams. Finally, be sure that you have all the necessary paperwork and forms that your school will need from your child's doctors."
Specific vaccinations for any school age child include chicken pox booster and Hepatitis A. Other suggested vaccinations for children 11 years or older include Tdap, Menactra and Gardasil, Dr. Rao adds. For more information on transitioning back to school or to schedule an appointment, visit nmpg.com or call 312-926-DOCS (3627).
For more information on immunizations, visit nmpg.com/default.aspx?article=pediatrics_immunizations.1.xml. For vaccinations required by the state for children attending school, visit the Illinois Department of Public Health website at www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/admincode/077/07700665sections.html