The Doctor is In: It’s back to school time!

The Doctor is In is an occasional series where JHU Press authors discuss the latest developments and news in health and medicine.

guest post by Lisa Dobberteen, M.D.

Summer is the best! Long days, time with family and friends, travel, summer camps, and a little more relaxed flow to life are enjoyed by children and adults alike. But as the beginning of the new school year approaches, here are a few things to keep in mind to help your family ease back into their usual routines:

  • Sleep: let’s get everyone back on their school year schedule
  • Food: fun, easy, and healthy ideas for breakfasts and lunches
  • Carrying books: keeping big and little backs healthy

Over the summer, it’s easy for kids to slip into later and later bedtimes, especially if you don’t need to be up and out in the morning to catch the school bus. Take a look at your child’s school year schedule, check on start times and bus stop pickups, and then think about how you’d like your morning routines to go.  About two weeks before school starts, try to move your child’s bedtime up by 15 minutes every night to get them going to bed at the right time a few days before the first day of school.  This will help them settle into a good bedtime and be much more ready to get up on time when school starts.

Eating a healthy breakfast and lunch is essential to prepare kids to be ready to learn.  If your child eats one or both meals at school, great!  If you are responsible for one or both meals from home, a little planning ahead will make things easier.  Fun and healthy choices for both meals can include:

  • wraps with whole grain tortillas
  • cut up fruit and yogurt dips
  • mini sandwiches and tiny salads
  • leftovers
  • mini bagels with veggies and cream cheese
  • lean meats and low fat cheeses wrapped up in lettuce leaves
  • whole grain chips with bean dip, salsa, and guacamole
  • hard-boiled eggs

Even young children can help with choosing and preparing food for their meals. Cold packs, a refillable water bottle, and a great lunch box will make packing lunches easy, even the night before.

Most children and teens need a backpack.  Two points to keep in mind when choosing a backpack:  make sure it’s not too big initially, and that your child isn’t carrying too much. When loaded up, it  should hold less than 15% of a child’s weight.  Straps should fit comfortably, be padded, and be worn!  Waist straps help shift the weight to the hips.

A special note to families with a new kindergarten entrant

For those of you with a child entering kindergarten, remember this is a milestone for both of you.  Kids often have unvoiced worries about their new “big” school and do their share of regressing over the summer. Be prepared for some whining, nightmares, bed wetting, and temper tantrums! Lots of reassurance, talking through the new school routines, and visits to the new school playground (even while the building is closed) all go a long way in shoring up your child’s sense of self and their new identity as a kindergartener.

We all thrive on routines.  A little planning to re-establish those your family follows during the school year will help everyone get back on track. Have a great school year!

Lisa Dobberteen, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, is coauthor, with Margaret and Richard Thomas, of Love and Limits In and Out of Child Care: What Your Child Care Provider and Your Pediatrician Want You to Know