The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a list of 12 tips to prepare children for back-to-school season, including several that focus on mental health.
AAP's 12 Tips for Parents for Back-to-School Season:
- Schedule a back-to-school physical that includes any necessary vaccinations.
- Start a dialogue about if and how your child uses social media.
- Create a safe, judgement-free zone for your child to discuss tough issues with you.
- Ensure your child eats a healthy breakfast that contains protein.
- Provide proper supervision for morning drop off and after school.
- Set a consistent bedtime. If your child has electronic devices, make sure they are turned off before bedtime.
- Create a homework-friendly environment at home that consists of a workspace that is quiet and promotes study.
- Establish a household rule that the television and other electronic devices stay off while doing homework; supervise computer and internet use.
- Help your child organize their homework via checklists and timers.
- If your child is struggling with a certain subject, speak with their teacher for recommendations on how to help.
- If your child would benefit from special education services, submit a request to the school for an Individualized Education Program evaluation.
- Contact a pediatrician if you notice changes in your child's mental or behavioral health, as well as changes in sleep, weight, and eating habits.
“Buying school supplies, arranging for childcare and making sure vaccines are up to date are just part of the checklist,” wrote the AAP in a press release. “Children can do their part by committing to get adequate sleep, nutritious food and activity – the basics that will keep them healthy.”
The first tip is to schedule a back-to-school physical that includes any necessary vaccinations if the child has not had one in the last year. Additional tips from the AAP focus on creating a homework-friendly environment, proper social media use, and ensuring children get enough sleep.
“It’s common for children to have a few jitters about those first few days back to school or in class with a new teacher or classmates,” said Sara Bode, MD, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, in the release. “This may happen at any age. Families can reassure their child that others feel the same way. It might help to rehearse heading into the new situation. You can ask your child or teen what they are worried about and help them problem-solve ways to master the new situation.”
In addition, the AAP encourages parents to “make it safe for your child to discuss tough issues with you,” noted the agency in the release.
“Children often avoid talking about touchy subjects, especially if they expect to be judged, lectured or punished,” the AAP tip says. “If you haven't already made this clear, affirm that your child can tell you anything. Emphasize that these conversations will take place in a judgment-free zone and really listen to what your child is saying.”
The agency also suggested that parents speak with their child’s teacher if the child is struggling in a certain subject, and to contact a pediatrician if they notice changes in their child’s mental or behavioral health.
“Look for any notable changes in sleep, weight, eating habits or other everyday patterns. Your pediatrician is here to help,” said the AAP.
Parents should encourage children to eat breakfast with protein, provide proper supervision for morning drop off and after school until they return home from work, and set a consistent bedtime that they can adhere to.
“Families can help children adjust to earlier bed times a week or two before the new school year starts, just to help them ease into new routines,” added Bode in the release. “Most of all, you’ll want to focus on the fun, the friendships and the adventure of starting another school year.”