The summer season is giving way to backpacks and lunchboxes. Covenant Medical Group physician Nicole Shields, MD, with Claiborne Primary Care in New Tazewell, shares her top tips to help kids get the new school year off to a great start.
Support Good Sleep Habits
Dr. Shields, a Claiborne Medical Center physician, says pediatric research has found that children who typically sleep for 10 hours or more each night have better socio-emotional, learning engagement and academic outcomes.
“Research supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics states most children need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night. Start with setting an expectation and goal for bed and wakeup times,” Dr. Shields says. “You may have to work towards this in increments of about 15 minutes every few days before school starts.”
Getting that good night’s sleep can be easier, she says, with healthy habits. For example, Dr. Shields recommends a rule of no phones in the bedroom.
“If this is impossible to change, then at least have the expectation that phones are turned off or on do not disturb and placed in their room where they would have to get up and walk over to get it instead of sleepily grabbing it to scroll mindlessly when they need to be asleep,” Dr. Shields says.
Better ways to wind down before bedtime are listening to music, drawing, reading, journaling and even meditation. “Sleep routines can be a great habit to start at any age,” she says.
Fuel Up for Success
The same strategy of setting expectations and goals can be applied to helping children get on a schedule with meals, moving the time of each day’s meals and snacks gradually.
“Understanding what the school schedule is for eating is helpful to know when they’re going to have breakfast, lunch and a snack, and then mimicking that at home is a good place to start,” Dr. Shields says. “Find out if your school allows snacks in book bags or lockers, and then make sure kids have healthy, protein-filled, brain-healthy foods.”
As a mom, some of Dr. Shields’ favorite foods to send to school with her own children are dried fruit, cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery and nuts (as allowed).
Slow Down School Stress
Starting school can be stressful for some children, especially if it’s a significant change from the previous year. Dr. Shields says every child is different, and some don’t adapt to change and other stressful situations as well as others.
“Finding out what your child may be fearful of or what they have questions about is a good place to start,” Dr. Shields says. If you’re concerned your child may be the victim of bullying or harassment, she recommends approaching the teacher and appropriate authorities at the school, working together to create a plan that keeps every student safe.
Don’t hesitate to discuss mental and physical health concerns with your child’s primary care provider, who can provide insight, resources and support.
“It’s okay to ask questions,” she says. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Information provided by Covenant Health