This article originally appeared in the Aug. 23, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Children and parents don’t always speak the same language, but as the new school year begins, their messages are often in unison: “Where on earth did the summer go?”
It seems like a new school year and the end of summer can creep up on families. Fortunately, parents can take small steps to get children set up for success in the coming school year.
One crucial change parents can make is to adjust sleep schedules. Many children become accustomed to going to bed and waking up late during the summer. Ideally, parents should start the school year sleeping schedule a few weeks before children return to school, to give their internal clocks time to reset. If children still have difficulty adjusting to their new sleep schedule, it’s important for parents to remain consistent. Kids who get enough sleep are more prepared to learn and retain what they learn better than children who are sleep-deprived.
Returning to a schedule can be difficult for anyone (think of how hard it is to come back to work from vacation!) so kids may need a nudge to get on the right track. Wall calendars and personal planners can help children and parents stay on track with kids’ assignments, tests and extracurricular activities. Allowing children to help choose their own planners can help ensure they use them regularly.
Mealtimes change with the return of the school year as well. Long summer days with less adult supervision often lead to more junk food and less structured eating times. Parents should make sure children get a healthy breakfast each morning. The importance of a healthy breakfast with adequate fiber and protein is hard to overstate: It provides fuel for the body, sets the tone for the day and helps kids stay alert to tackle their day.
Children may worry about starting a new school year, especially if their new grade level puts them into a new school. It’s natural for children to be anxious about making friends and finding their way around a new school. If children have these concerns, parents can talk to them and offer advice on the best way to make friends and navigate new surroundings. The Golden Rule has been around for a long time and remains solid advice for kids: Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.
The school year does signal a change for children but that does not mean the summer fun has to fade into oblivion. Parents can plan special Saturday trips for the weekends to keep some of that “vacation” feel going. Families can also scrapbook photos and find other ways to preserve summer memories. For many families, “summer” is less a season than a feeling of fun and family togetherness that can be captured all year long.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.