JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Late summer nights and sleeping in are soon coming to an end for kids across the area, and sometimes that transition can be tough for parents and kids. That’s why pediatricians and psychologists recommend easing your child into their back-to-school routine.
There is still time to adjust your child’s routine so the first day of school doesn’t come as shock for the whole family. Matthew Tolliver, Clinical Psychologist and Behavioral Health Consultant for ETSU Pediatrics suggests taking smaller steps to get your child back to their school year bedtime and wake up time.
“If your kid’s been going to bed at 11 o’clock all summer and you want them to go to bed at 9:30, you might think about having them go to bed just 15 minutes early each night until you get back to their desired bedtime and have them practice waking up a bit earlier too, so when that first day of school comes, they’re prepared and their body is adjusted as well,” said Tolliver.
Another way you can make bedtime easier is by shutting off screens and letting kids wind down.
“Shutting off the screens at least an hour before, reading at bedtime even for 10-20 minutes at night is a great routine to get in some time to wind down to help them quiet down and get some rest,” said Karen Schetzina, MD MPH General Pediatrician.
If you have a younger child that struggles to stay in bed, Tolliver recommends setting up a hall pass and reward system to help them stay in bed and feel accomplished doing so.
“Starting at the age of five you can implement a bedtime pass, kind of like a hall pass. Where you’re able to give your kid a couple passes and that allows them to get up and get that extra hug if they want to, allows the parent to give some extra nurturing if they want to as well,” Tolliver said. “But maybe setting up a system where once you run out of your bedtime passes you’ve got to stay in bed after that. Sometimes linking that to a little reward in the morning too, if you can not run out of all your passes helps kids feel a sense of accomplishment and get a little reward for being able to learn to fall asleep on their own without as much help.”
That strong bedtime routine will help your child get the sleep they need for school and can make that morning routine easier on both of you. However, if they still struggle to get up, there are other tricks to get them through the process.
“Incorporating picture schedules, especially for younger kids can help them know what’s going to come next and what’s going to be a part of their morning routines, so having a picture of getting up and putting on your school clothes and eating breakfast and brushing your teeth helps kids know what to expect and can also help reduce anxiety for some kids too,” said Tolliver.
Making sure they are well fed both at breakfast and throughout the day will keep your child full and focused.
“We always tell families to try to have your kids eat a rainbow,” said Dr. Schetzina. “And if you do that have them eat different colors of fruits and vegetables that will help them get all the nutrients their bodies need. And we recommend about five servings of vegetables a day and a serving, you can look at the size of palm to see what a serving might look like. Again, water is the healthiest choice to drink when you’re thirsty.”
Mealtimes can also be a great time to check in with your child. Both Dr. Schetzina and Tolliver said checking in with your child is important to see if they’re struggling.
“Think about what kinds of limits you might need to put on watching TV and video games, have a good place set up at a time each day where your child can devote to homework, ready and try to make some time available to help them and work with them,” said Schetzina.
Tolliver said there are ways you can address anxieties or nervousness that might come up by helping your child confront each one.
“Preparing kids for who their teachers are, maybe you even want to practice getting up at the time for the bus. And if your parent is able to, maybe they can drive you by the school and get you prepared and know where you’re going to be dropped off if you’re a car rider or a bus rider. So doing these small little exposures so kids feel a little bit more comfortable and know what to expect whenever school starts,” said Tolliver. “If you’re not able to drive by their school, you might be able to pull up the school’s website and see pictures of the school there, see pictures of their teacher who they’re going to meet with, and just find some small little ways to let them know what to expect.”
Returning to school is a good time to make sure your child is up-to-date medically and has all the proper medical forms filled out for both school and sports.
“If you don’t already have a primary care provider for your child, I’d recommend finding one,” said Schetzina. “You can talk to family and friends for recommendations, you can get a list from your insurance company, your local health department could help, but you want to find someone you know and who gets to know your child and your family.”
Schetzina also emphasized the importance of keeping your child home if they’re sick and following all COVID-19 protocols that your school has in place. Schetzine encouraged mask-wearing and home temperature checks, especially for children under the age of 12 who are not eligible to receive a vaccine.
Both Dr. Schezina and Tolliver say back-to-school anxiousness is normal, but if you start to notice it impacting your child’s behavior, such as sleep, appetite, or relationships, then consult your pediatrician for more help.