Back to School: 6 Tips for Getting Into the Swing of Things

With the begin­ning of the school year just around the cor­ner — it’s not a bad idea to start think­ing about what your new back-to-school rou­tine will look like.

Your child is about to learn a lot of new facts, so why not join them?

Here are 6 facts to keep in mind as you and your child plan for the upcom­ing school year. 

1. Chil­dren and teens con­sume about 35% to 40% of the dai­ly calo­rie intake at school.*

And about a third of those calo­ries are not healthy choic­es. With chil­dren get­ting most of their calo­ries from food con­sumed at school, it’s impor­tant to do every­thing you can to empow­er your child to eat healthy dur­ing the school day. You can do this by:

  • Get­ting cre­ative. Replace the bag­gie of car­rots with some­thing more fun. The Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics has a great library of kid-friend­ly healthy recipes.
  • Let­ting your child choose between healthy choic­es, like grapes or an apple, or apple­sauce or yogurt, so they’re more like­ly to actu­al­ly eat the lunch you pack. 
  • Teach­ing them about the ben­e­fits of eat­ing healthy at school, and about how some foods can make the school day uncom­fort­able. For exam­ple, cer­tain types of foods, like those rich in car­bo­hy­drates, can cause sleepi­ness after eat­ing them. 

*This is based on the more than 55 mil­lion chil­dren and teens in the US pub­lic school sys­tem, accord­ing to the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pediatrics.

Before stock­ing up on peanut but­ter for your child’s lunch­es, read up on their school’s aller­gy pol­i­cy — some ban stu­dents from bring­ing cer­tain com­mon aller­gens, like nuts, to school for the safe­ty of all students.

2. About half of school-aged chil­dren do not get enough hydration.

Good hydra­tion helps chil­dren focus and stay alert and may improve over­all cog­ni­tion. Indi­vid­ual needs might vary, but in gen­er­al, chil­dren between the ages of 4 and 8 should aim for 5 cups of water every day and old­er chil­dren should have between 7 and 8 cups each day.

Instead of sim­ply telling your child to drink up, it may be help­ful to invest in a water bot­tle that has lines mark­ing cups of water. If your child craves sweet­er drinks, try infus­ing water with fresh fruits or pack­ing foods with high water con­tent, like watermelon.

3. A writ­ten action plan could improve out­comes for your child if they have an asth­ma attack or aller­gic reaction.

Not sure how to start with that action plan? Try using this check­list:

  • Inform your child’s teach­ers and the school nurse about their aller­gies. Most schools ask for this infor­ma­tion each year so that they can help keep your child safe.
  • Have an action plan in place for if your child is exposed to the aller­gen (e.g., they acci­den­tal­ly eat some­thing con­tain­ing peanuts).
  • If your child has an epi­neph­rine injec­tor (e.g., EpiPen) or oth­er med­ica­tion, make sure that you have it in stock and that your child brings it every day.
  • If your child has asth­ma or envi­ron­men­tal aller­gies, tour the school to look for pos­si­ble triggers.

Need a lit­tle more guid­ance? The Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics has a stan­dard form that’s free for use.

4. Reg­u­lar phys­i­cals aren’t just ben­e­fi­cial for your child’s health — your child might not be allowed in school with­out them.

We rec­om­mend that all school-aged chil­dren get a check-up every year. And depend­ing on your child’s grade and school poli­cies, a phys­i­cal may be required. 

Under Illi­nois law, your child will need to get a phys­i­cal with­in one year before:

  • Begin­ning school (nurs­ery school, prekinder­garten, and spe­cial edu­ca­tion programs)
  • Trans­fer­ring to school from out­side of the state or US
  • Start­ing kinder­garten or first grade, sixth grade, and ninth grade (if a school doesn’t have grade lev­els, the exam require­ments apply at ages 5, 11, and 15)

Addi­tion­al­ly, your child may need to get cer­tain vac­ci­na­tions, as required by the state, or a prepar­tic­i­pa­tion phys­i­cal exam if they play sports.

If your child needs to get a school phys­i­cal, or if you have any ques­tions about help­ing them stay healthy this school year, sched­ule an appoint­ment with a Duly Health and Care pedi­a­tri­cian.

5. Par­ents and chil­dren both want to talk about men­tal health — but they don’t.

Most teenagers are com­fort­able talk­ing to their par­ents about men­tal health, but less than half actu­al­ly do it. While the major­i­ty of par­ents under­stand the impor­tance of talk­ing to their chil­dren about men­tal health, near­ly 60% don’t know how to begin.

Start­ing school can take a toll on a child’s men­tal health, whether it’s a case of the back-to-school jit­ters or symp­toms of a men­tal health con­di­tion that are exac­er­bat­ed at school.

One of the most impor­tant things you can do is to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open. As you talk to your child, make sure to:

  • Ask your child ques­tions — and actu­al­ly lis­ten to their answers.
  • Avoid using judg­men­tal lan­guage, so they know that they have a safe space. 
  • Val­i­date their feel­ings, even if they’re upset about some­thing that you may think isn’t a big deal. 

In some cas­es, your child may ben­e­fit from work­ing with a men­tal health pro­fes­sion­al. Let them know that it’s per­fect­ly nor­mal — it doesn’t mean some­thing is wrong” with them. 

6. Near­ly 35% of chil­dren under age 18 don’t get enough sleep.

Among high school stu­dents, that per­cent­age has been shown to sky­rock­et to as much as about 73%.

Your child may be used to stay­ing up a bit lat­er or sleep­ing in dur­ing the sum­mer. While they might resist (“It’s still sum­mer!”), start to ease back into ear­li­er bed­times and get­ting up ear­ly before the first day of school. 

It’s not just when they go to bed and wake up that’s impor­tant — you also need to make sure that they have good sleep­ing habits. You can cre­ate an ide­al sleep environment by hav­ing your child:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Try to avoid screens in the hour or two before bedtime.
  • Lim­it food 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

Whether you need assis­tance cre­at­ing an aller­gy action plan, help talk­ing to your child about men­tal health, or infor­ma­tion about nutri­tion — and any­thing in between — your child’s pedi­a­tri­cian is a great resource to help your child start the school year on the right foot.

Health Topics:

  • Jenny Tan, MD - St. Charles Pediatrics

    Bringing a caring, personal approach to interactions with children and parents alike to establish a sense of trust with young patients.