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The yellow school buses are rolling once again on Loudoun’s roads, and there’s a general buzz of excitement as school gets back into session. But excitement for kids is often mixed with anxiety. Transitioning from a laid-back summer to the pressures and dynamics of the school year can be challenging. Here are some tips for helping your child transition back to school:
Look Out for Common Health Issues
Keeping an eye out for a few common issues can help you identify and address problems before they become serious. Here are a few we often see as the new school year moves forward:
- Vision: make sure to get your child’s vision checked regularly, and be aware of any school-related problems that may stem from eyesight issues. In some cases, children may become disengaged if they can’t see what’s happening at the front of the class. Children may be hesitant to speak up and concerned about what vision correction will look like. But with so many cool glasses and sports frames available for children, along with contact lenses for teens, there’s no need to let vision problems linger.
- Hearing: hearing problems are another sometimes overlooked cause of school-related stress. Many schools do hearing screenings as a part of back to school programming. If you or your child’s teacher suspect that a hearing issue may be coming into play, make an appointment with your pediatrician. We’ll get the screening process going and give you resources for further testing and specialists if needed.
- Stomach ache: children often complain about stomach aches during times of uncertainty: the beginning of the school year, before a big test or project or before an important sports event. If unexplained stomach aches become chronic, your child may get a functional abdominal pain diagnosis. First, see your pediatrician to rule out food allergies or illness or constipation. Then work on strategies for coping with anxiety, including mindfulness techniques, exercise and therapy. Your pediatrician can refer you to a counselor specializing in children if your child needs help.
Adapt As Your Child Grows
From the first day of kindergarten to the first day of college, transitions can be challenging at any age.
- Give children time to adjust to a new school setting. Transitioning to full-day school can be exhausting and emotional for children and parents alike. Expect children to blow off a little steam when they come home from school and avoid overbooking the first few weeks of school with other activities.
- Create meaningful routines: be sure to find time for family dinners and bedtime stories. Making time for family and one-on-one time with parents is key at any age.
- Keep those bedtimes early for elementary schoolers. With Loudoun’s early elementary schedule and busy school days, a sleep schedule is essential. If your young child has sleep issues, contact your pediatrician for help.
As peer relationships begin to play a greater role in our children’s lives, it’s important to keep a dialogue open with your child and give them space and support at the same time.
- Talk about social situations and encourage tweens to discuss any situations that may be making them uncomfortable. We have a great list of books and websites that are excellent resources for helping tweens navigate this time of transition.
- Give them agency: help your child gain independence and make her own decisions. Make middle school course selections together. Discuss and choose meals and have your child help pack her lunch.
- If your daughter has concerns about her period, encourage dialogue and understanding. Listen to her concerns and help her prepare. Your pediatrician is available to help and answer any questions she may have.
- Limit screen time: the American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that elementary and middle school children need consistent limits on screen time, and parents should pay close attention to what they’re watching and playing.
Your teen is independent but still needs support from parents and professionals as they navigate change. Parents, physicians, teachers and counselors can work together to protect our young people’s mental and physical health.
- Set reasonable limits on screen time for your teen. Make sure that texting and gaming don’t interfere with sleep and other important activities.
- Keep your own expectations in check. Avoid pushing your child to load up on high-pressure classes and instead work toward balance.
- Be open to conversations with your teen even if the subject matter makes you uncomfortable. Check with your pediatrician if you need help communicating with your teen about sexuality, substance abuse and mental health challenges.
Focus on Nutrition and Exercise
Diet and exercise play an important role in helping your child thrive and adapt in school. Good nutrition can help your child’s emotional state. Limit sugar, start with a healthy, high-protein breakfast and help them choose or pack a nutritious lunch every day. Regular exercise helps children of all ages with stress and anxiety while boosting fitness and reducing the risk of childhood obesity. Exercise also contributes to better sleep which is a key to academic success. Look into team or individual sports, exercise classes or activities like walking and cycling with family depending on your child’s interests.
Working with Your Pediatrician for Smooth Transitions
Helping your child manage school-related stress takes a team of important adults including parents, teachers, counselors and your pediatrician. At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, we’ve watched so many patients blossom from infancy to young adulthood and helped them and their families manage all the bumps in the road. We have decades of experience and tons of resources to share. If you have concerns about anxiety or other school-related challenges, our office is a great place to start.