Bedtimes, free time key for children returning to class
While we cling to the last days of summer, many parents are feeling the winds of change on the horizon. I’m referring to the anticipation of children going off to school, some for the first time, others returning after the long break. Thinking ahead about how to ease the transition into the school routines can help prepare children to hit the ground smiling. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Re-establish bedtime routines and hours before school starts. Young children need 9-10 hours of sleep to bring their best energy for attention, learning and social behavior to school each day. Shut down evening screen time well before bedtime.
2. Expect your child to behave and/or feel different after school for the first days or weeks of the term. Kids work hard to adapt to the social and learning demands of school. They work even harder the first few weeks until people, places and schedules grow to feel predictable. It’s wise to allow children a period of time right after school to let down, relax, unwind and play before asking them to do anything constructive or structured like homework, dinner or chores.
3. Watch for signs that may indicate they are feeling more than the typical distress in making the transition to school. Unusual and persistent irritability and changes in appetite, energy or mood might suggest that your child is worn out or overwhelmed and miserably unhappy. If so, ask your child and the teacher. Once you identify the source, you will be able to figure out ways to improve the situation.
4. A week or two before school starts, walk or ride with your child to the school building and get to know the place and its neighborhood. This helps your child feel familiar by the time school starts.
5. With a young child, pretend play the classroom. Take turns being the teacher and the student. Talk about who else will be in the class, play cooperative games and role-play a story time.
6. With children of any age, tell them stories about your first weeks of school – the excitement and the nervousness you felt. Who helped you? What was great? How was that grade different from the previous ones? Ask them what they are anticipating from this school year?
7. Talk about all the terrific things to look forward to in school and how this means that your child is growing so big and smart! Write a note to the teacher, telling about yourself, your summer, what you like to do, etc.
8. Ask your child if she wants to bring a special object to school in her backpack – perhaps a stuffed animal, a charm, a bracelet, a baseball card, a photo, or some other age-appropriate version of a security blanket. Plan together what your child will wear the first few days.
9. Check to be sure your child’s immunizations are up to date and he has had a yearly examination his doctor. Starting off with a clean bill of health or a clear approach to managing chronic health challenges goes a long way toward helping your child start school with all engines firing. Most importantly, your child should have a regular physician and a secure health insurance policy. Through the Florida KidCare program, the Florida Department of Health offers free or low-cost health insurance to children younger than 19 who do not have private insurance. Contact the KidCare office at 888-540-5437 or visit www.floridakidcare.org to learn more.
10. Parents, get yourselves ready – physically and emotionally. Your child will need your enthusiasm, guidance and comforting during this period of change, so make sure you have the support you need and have made arrangements that will help you be as available as you want to be.
Dr. Peter A. Gorski is a child development expert at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, a pediatrician and a professor of pediatrics, public health and psychiatry at the University of South Florida.