For many families, the school year is beginning with so much uncertainty – and yet, there are opportunities for growth and resilience.
Whether children are learning remotely from home or in-person in a school building, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips to help families get the school year off to the best start possible. This includes helping children and teens develop healthy habits, such as good nutrition, sleep and exercise, that are important for academic performance.
“However the school year begins for your family, keeping a daily structure and routine is really important,” said Natalie Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, CSSD, FAAP, FACSM, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Family meals are a great way to add structure to your day, and we know that children eat healthier during shared family meals. Now more than ever having a chance to talk and unwind over dinner can also help improve mental health and wellbeing for both children and adults.”
Dr. Muth, who chairs the AAP Section on Obesity, also suggests families work in regular exercise breaks throughout the day – especially if children are learning online for most of the day.
“Taking 5-10 minutes to play tag outside, dance, run up and down the stairs, or doing some quick movements with the help of a fitness app can really make a difference in children’s energy levels,” Dr. Muth said.
The AAP offers these tips for the school year:
- All children should be up to date on vaccinations. If you are not sure what vaccines your child needs, call your pediatrician. AAP recommends annual influenza vaccine for all children age 6 months and older.
- Establish rules and expectations with a built-in routine for each day. Keep bedtimes the same whether learning takes place at the school or home, and limit use of digital devices a half hour before bedtime.
- If your child is learning from home, provide a quiet place for schoolwork with the necessary materials, such as the WIFI password, logins for accounts, pencils, paper and organizers.
- If your child is learning in school, provide multiple cloth face coverings for your child, label them so they are not confused with another child’s. Practice putting on and taking off cloth face masks with your child while avoiding touching the cloth portions. Remind your child that they should clean their hands before and after touching their mask.
- Have a conversation with your child’s teacher so that the teacher understands how your child is handling these times emotionally and academically, especially if there are any specific issues or concerns to be aware of in order to help your child feel comfortable and supported upon returning to school.
- Help children take responsibility for their learning. Don’t help too much. Becoming independent takes lots of practice and developing good habits.
- Talk with your child or teen and watch for any signs they need additional mental health support. Call your pediatrician and school if you suspect your child is having trouble adjusting to new routine or struggling academically.
- Parents will need to be on the look-out for any signs that a child is struggling academically or has learning differences. Contact the pediatrician, who can help evaluate if a child has a learning disability or something else going on. The signs are not always clear, and families can find information and support from resources including the Understood organization here.
- Keep your child home from school if he or she shows any sign of illness. Make sure the school has an updated list of emergency contacts. Call your pediatrician to discuss symptoms and next steps. It’s possible that your pediatricians may offer telehealth visits and can tell you if your child needs to come into the office,
- Children with disabilities have been especially vulnerable during this pandemic. Make sure you discuss an individualized plan with the pediatrician and educators to keep your child engaged in learning, whether at school or home.
- Arrange to regularly get some respite from caring for your children. Try to keep yourself safe, healthy and rested so you will have energy for those who depend on you.
Families whose children began the school year in a classroom should also prepare to go back to virtual learning if COVID-19 cases increase in the community.
“Remember, the pediatrician is available to help if your child is having a hard time adjusting to school this year,” Dr. Muth said. “Your child’s pediatrician understands what you are going through and is there for you to listen and help you connect with resources to help you and your child get through these unprecedented times.”
Media outlets may use these tips with attribution to AAP.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.