The anticipation of the first day of school can be filled with excitement for children. For others, it marks the end of summer fun and is not nearly as enticing. Helping your kids prepare for school helps set them up for a healthy and successful school year. Just remember – starting the year right is great, but what matters is whether you continue and end the school year with healthy habits. These are habits to build for yourself and your family year-round.
Going Back to School Mentally Healthy
Setting our kids up for a positive school experience and life experience starts with their mental health. We can all acknowledge that the statistics around mental health these days aren’t encouraging. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that an estimated 1 in 5 children experience a mental disorder each year, and $247 billion (about $760 per person in the US) goes to treating and managing childhood mental disorders.  While it’s easy to become discouraged by statistics, there’s much that parents can do to support their young scholars when it comes to mental health. Let’s walk through a few simple ways to start.
Limit Screen Time
While the artificial blue light from screens isn’t necessarily bad (at least, during the day), it isn’t good for your child to absorb it for extended periods. Schools have been running headlong into using tablets, computers, and other screens for a while now. Screens, like other tools, can be helpful for learning new things.
However, it’s not good for children to stare at a screen the entire school day only to come home and stare at it some more. Not to mention how easy it is to find inappropriate content when you can access the entire internet.
Here are a few alternatives to after-school screentime, whether your kids need to rest or burn off energy:
- Encourage your child to get outside and play or enjoy the sun to relax after school
- Enact screen detoxes in the evenings or over weekends
- Go for adventures and explore a nearby park or forest
- Read a book
- Play a game
- Race cars
- Come up with your own stories
- Run around the yard – who can complete the most laps before they need to stop? Who can do it the fastest?
- Learn a hobby
- Take a nap
- Talk about how everyone’s day was and what went well. Also, discuss how it could have been better and then brainstorm ways to make “better” happen tomorrow.
After-school screen time has become a habit for many, but that’s all it is – a habit. New habits can be built and cultivated. It just takes time. Is it hard? Yes. Will your children complain and ask for the screens back? Maybe. But this is a new skill they get to develop as they learn to take responsibility for their own health.
Help Them Prepare for the Differences in Learning
A kindergartener learns differently from a first grader, and third grade is more complicated and different from second grade. Help your child mentally prepare for the “new and different” of this school year over the last and the upcoming school year over the past summer.
Have an open discussion with your kids and help them see what they should expect to change this year. How might it be different from the last several? Discuss with them about what the best way for them to learn is.
Will they benefit from the structured schedule of school? In what ways can you help them prepare for that? Start making lunches and snacks ahead of time and set a specific time for lunch. Get them a good-quality water bottle and start practicing keeping track of their hydration throughout the day. Start setting bedtimes, wake-up times, and times to do chores or play outside to make that transition easier.
Would your child benefit more from an individual approach, whether that’s homeschooling or a tutor? Start setting up “to-do” lists for the day or week so they can practice time management. Start taking little steps to help them prepare so the schedule shift isn’t so much of a change when the first day of school comes.
Leave Room for Mental Health Days
No one can run with an open throttle all day, every day, and do well. Help your child recognize that a good grade isn’t worth driving their mind, body, and health into the ground.
Your body cannot distinguish between the stress of being attacked by a bear and the stress of an upcoming test or an argument with a friend. Your body handles the stress of traumas, toxins, and thoughts similarly. If your little one is getting overwhelmed by school, and it’s becoming too much, let them have a mental health day. Their mental health is just as important as their physical health.
Let the weekends be weekends. Don’t drag their homework out over the entire two days – block out time to get it done so they don’t have the stress of it hanging over their heads until Sunday night. Let them have a break and let them be children. Get outside, play with them, help your kids stretch their imaginations and use their incredible minds.
Consider Their Schedules
As we’ve already said, school rhythms differ significantly from summer days, and a schedule change can be exhausting and stressful for children. Between homework, friends, extracurriculars, and getting up early in the morning, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But it can also be exciting!
How much schoolwork does your child have? Are they learning at the proper level and being challenged enough? Is there something they’re struggling to understand, or do they feel they’re soaring through? Is there a class they don’t enjoy; which ones do they enjoy? Sit with them. Ask them about where they are thriving and where they are struggling.
How many extracurriculars is your child in? Are they enjoying the activity, or does that, too, feel like a chore? Ask these questions and be open to the possibility that the answer may require conversations with teachers and coaches. Take time to find out what they do enjoy and figure out why. Try to infuse more of that into their life!
Going Back to School Socially Healthy
As adults who have gone through several school years, we know that going to school with your friends doesn’t mean you’re spending time with them all day long. If it’s been months since your kids have been in the classroom, they may have forgotten that school time isn’t playtime. Have a discussion with your child to help them see that they’re at school to learn; there are times to talk and play and times not to. Establish enough social time outside of school to support them emotionally.
Keep up discussions and open lines of communication throughout the school year. How is the relationship between them and the other children? Are there classmates they struggle with? Classmates that they enjoy being with? Ones they seek out? Why? Are they dealing with bullies?
Social interactions can cause immense stress in people, and children don’t always know how to handle it well. We’ve all gone through stressful social periods; don’t let mishandled stress lead to even more relational problems for your child. Help them gracefully learn how to relate and get along with other children. Help establish healthy play dates with kids they enjoy spending time with. Be sure to chat about your child’s social interactions and help them navigate those interactions while they’re still little. This will help set up a successful path for when they’re teens. Consider it an investment today!
Going Back to School Physically Healthy
School is hard on your body. “How?” you ask. “All you’re doing is sitting in a chair, with some breaks for recess or snaps, depending on age.” Exactly. Sitting for lengthy periods isn’t good for your body. We all need more movement throughout the day, and if your kids don’t get it during school, it’s important to ensure they get it other times. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Get to school ten minutes early to let them run around or play on the playground. Trying to get out of the house on time can be stressful. Give them time to run that stress out so it’s not cooped up inside them all day.
- Stop at the last intersection before the school and let them walk (on the sidewalk!) or run the last little way.
- Get them outside and running around after school.
- Encourage them to move a bit between classes. Maybe touch their toes five times at their locker or do a few stretches that cross their midline while walking in line. Be sure to talk to their teachers about this one – some teachers might tell your child to calm down if they don’t understand why they’re doing it.
Your kids need to move, just like we do. Finding times and ways to do so during the school year takes a bit of creativity, but it is possible.
Make Sure They Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your body. Your body needs enough sleep to mend and maintain itself daily. Is your child getting enough sleep? The CDC says that kids 6-12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep, and teens 13-18 need 8 to 10.  Ensuring your kids get the sleep they need, especially with homework and extracurriculars, can be challenging. Still, it is a requirement for their health and a simple, inexpensive way to keep them physically healthy.
Teach Good Eating Habits
We’ve all known how important healthy foods are for our physical health. Sometimes those sneaky, colorful, enticing, nutrition-lacking snacks and “fun foods” sneak in. The quality of what fuel your little one takes in determines the quality they can put out. If your child’s body is fighting to continue functioning properly, they’re dealing with a lot of stress. Set your little one up for success in returning to school by reducing the stress on their system with good eating habits. Get their allergies tested, and cut dairy, sugar, GMOs, dyes, the dirty dozen, and inflammatory foods from their diets. Get creative and help your student pack their lunch box the same way you would fill a backpack; help them prepare for their day!
Get Them Adjusted
Because school is hard on your body – sitting all day and running around – getting your children adjusted regularly is incredibly beneficial. Keeping kids’ bodies aligned helps them tolerate stress better and supports their health.
Consider The Impact of Stress
Stress to a young child doesn’t look like what adults often consider stress. Many of us would wonder what our children could possibly stress about! For them, falling off the monkey bars is stressful. Having to sit through a class they don’t enjoy is stressful. And the body handles both the same way. When stressed, your body’s primary concern becomes survival, even if the stress you’re facing doesn’t put your life in danger. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are also stressors.
Children’s minds, bodies, and social lives differ from adults. Let a child be a child. Give them a break from school at the end of the day and week. Get them outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Let them run around a park and build things with blocks. Let them take tumbles, get dirty, and make mistakes, knowing that they may not feel they can make mistakes in school, often due to grading pressures.
Parents, Be There and Be Patient
Going back to school brings excitement and challenges every year. There is so much to look forward to and new rhythms we’re not used to yet. Children need their parents, even if they seem to throw the entire day’s attitude at you. You’re safe to do that with, and they may be exhausted or dealing with big emotions. Be your child’s advocate, and know it’s not personal. At the beginning of the school year, everyone is tired, and when you’re tired, stress is magnified; it’ll get easier.
Physical Stress Relief
As stated above, the body responds to physical and emotional stress in the same way. Even if you can’t relieve all mental and social stress, relieving physical stress will help your child handle the other stressors easier. That’s why the advice to get them adjusted, ensure they get enough rest, and keep up on water are so important. If those last two are more of a fight, check out our tips for a better night’s sleep and ways to keep water interesting. Back to school doesn’t have to be a rough time of year, but it does take some preparation and forethought. To get your allergies tested or get adjusted, contact a Wellness Way clinic today!