Helping kids transition from summer to a new school year requires more than just rousing them out of bed the first day, and the effort parents put in now can help build routines that will help their kids succeed all year long.
Dr. Samantha Lowe, a pediatrician at White Plains Hospital Medical and Wellness in Armonk, offers invaluable advice about the four “S’s”—sleep, study, schedule, and safeguards—to help ease the shift from summer days to school days, and says that for all, the most important thing in a parent’s arsenal is “knowing your own child.”
The Four “S’s” for successfully transitioning from summer to back to school, are:
“Creating and sticking to sleep routines is very important to ensure that children have the rest they need for both the cognitive and physical demands of their days,” Dr. Lowe says. She warns against “catch up” sleep strategies—staying up late during the week (getting less than 10 hours of sleep for kids 7-12 years old and less than 9 hours for teenagers) and sleeping in on the weekend instead. This can lead to over-exhaustion and irritability and can cause a decrease in concentration and productivity. “Consult with your child and map out his/her day, after-school activities, homework time and downtime and determine what’s reasonable. It’s very possible that something may have to give to accommodate everything and to ensure your child is getting the rest they need.”
For kids that have difficulty falling asleep, Dr. Lowe recommends avoiding sugary or caffeinated foods and drinks in the evening, shutting electronics off 30 minutes prior to bed, removing bedroom clocks, and using blackout shades or a white noise machine. For children who have difficulty waking but are getting adequate rest each night, she suggests letting natural light into their room in the morning to help regulate their circadian rhythms to improve alertness.
Every child learns differently, so the best way to help your child –whether at the start of school or throughout – is to identify what works best for them. What are his/her strengths? What are his/her weaknesses? What do they get excited about? When do they hit the wall? Once parents key into their child’s study and learning style, they can help create conditions where their child will thrive. Generally, Dr. Lowe advises that children should study in a comfortable, well-lit space that is free from distractions – at a mutually agreed-upon study time for maximum productivity. Parents should also encourage children to take breaks if they are feeling overwhelmed and should let them know there is nothing wrong with asking for help when needed, which can reduce stress levels.
Some children thrive with lots of structure and activities; others need a break from constant stimulation. When children are experiencing increased levels of stress, they can seem tired, irritable, worried, sad, withdrawn, nervous, and disengaged. Dr. Lowe also notes that stress can affect school performance and sleep, and that parents should continually assess their children’s mood, behavior, and performance to determine if activities should be scaled back. Children today have amazing opportunities and activities at their disposal, but sometimes it’s equally important to build in unscheduled downtime.
While peers can help motivate children to succeed, peer pressure can also foster toxic competition, or worse, can push your child towards negative and dangerous behavior. Dr. Lowe says that it is important for parents to know their children’s friends and to encourage kids to engage a variety of friends across various “groups.” Equally important is monitoring children’s internet activity – from knowing their passwords, to insisting on “private” social media profiles, to scanning followers, comments, and posted photos. Parents should be on the lookout for warning signs of bullying that need immediate attention: behavioral changes, weight loss or weight gain, withdrawal, and changes in appearance (clothes, hair, etc.).
Dr. Lowe is a pediatrician with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates, with offices in Armonk. To make an appointment, call (914) 849-7900.