Special to Iredell Free News
While back-to-school time is exciting for some children, others may feel anxious or scared to begin school, especially following such an unconventional year.
As we enter this season, take the extra time this year to ensure your child has a great start to school — set expectations, listen to your child, and do what you can to keep them healthy and ease their nerves.
Check out the following reminders to help your child start school on the right track.
Promote Healthy Habits
Remember, young children are easily influenced and learn from example. Your child may replicate many of your actions. First and foremost, it’s important to practice healthy lifestyle habits — not only for yourself but for your child as well.
“Children learn from the examples of their parents, from how they eat, to how they manage stress, and to what their schedules are like. Even though parents oftentimes feel busy, it’s crucial to promote healthy habits,” said Dr. Judith Albert, lead physician at Family Care Center of Mooresville, a new practice inside Iredell Mooresville that opens this week.
Children may pick up your eating habits, exercise routines, sleep schedule, and even electronic device usage. So, set your child on the path to good health and teach them healthy lifestyle habits now.
Beat the first-day jitters
It’s normal for your child to be nervous on the first day back, especially if they were an online learner last year. New places and people are nerve-racking for all of us.
To make the first day back to school easier for your child, try to ease their anxiety by telling them their schedules and routines beforehand. Before school starts, get your child used to a daily schedule that matches what they will have on school days.
“To decrease anxiety, make sure your child understands their routine — from how they’re going to school, to how they’re getting home, to their school and sleep schedules,” said Albert.
Additionally, where possible, take advantage of the school’s open house to meet your child’s teacher and introduce your child to their new environment in a more relaxed setting. This is also a perfect time for your child to meet other students; familiar faces can help calm their first-day jitters.
Remember to communicate to your child that it is everyone’s first day back, and many are probably feeling the exact same way they are.
Communication is key
Throughout the school year, maintain daily, open communication with your child. If you do not ask questions, you’ll never get answers.
“Communication is key. Make sure that your child knows to come to you. Look at the signs and listen,” said Albert.
Your child may encounter health risks in a school setting, including mental health issues like anxiety and physical and emotional issues like bullying. As a parent, you may never know of these issues unless you keep an open communication channel with your child.
“Explain to your child the importance of communication. Ensure that they know to tell a trusted adult about bullying or any other safety issues at school, whether they tell you as a parent, their teacher, or the school system’s safety officer,” said Albert.
According to Albert, many school-aged children who have stomach aches are really just experiencing anxiety.
“The parent will often get expensive work-ups and see several specialists when in reality, their child just felt anxious,” she said.
Anxiety can stem from a variety of sources, including a problem that may have happened at school or an incident with their friends. Establishing open communication outlets where your child can confide in you makes all the difference.
“Take the time to put the devices away, and just listen and hear about your child’s day. Even if it’s only five minutes in the car, make sure to ask your child how their day was,” said Albert.
Establish a sleep schedule
A set bedtime will help your child stay more alert throughout the school day.
“Children require good, quality sleep. Poor sleep can cause irritability during the day and may mimic the same symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD),” said Albert.
According to Albert, children ages 6 through 12 require 9-12 hours of sleep per 24 hours; whereas children ages 13 through 18 require 8-10 hours.
“Quality sleep is essential for everyone, regardless of age. If you or your child is having trouble sleeping, make an appointment with your doctor and describe your issues to them,” she said.
Maintain healthy eating habits
A lifelong habit of healthy eating is necessary to maintain a healthy weight and heart. If you pack your child’s lunch, try to include a variety of foods. Encourage your child to eat plenty of whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, and cooked dry beans. As busy parents, it’s easy to buy pre-packaged food, but take the time to provide your child with healthier options.
If your child buys their lunch at school, go over the menu with them before school to help them make better choices and establish a healthier lifestyle.
Remember to serve your child proper portions. A child-size serving is about ¼ the size of an adult portion.
Physical activity is crucial for young children. Make an effort to go outside and be active with your child as it can prevent them from developing long-term issues like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Help your child find an activity they enjoy, and start doing this with the entire family.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 should have one hour or more of physical activity each day.
“While physical activity is important, be careful not to over-schedule your kids. Make sure your child is active, but find the right balance,” said Albert.
Going back to school amidst a pandemic can be scary for both children and their parents.
Communicate to your child the importance of proper hand-washing to help protect them not only from COVID-19 but also from other viral and bacterial infections. Teach them how to cover their coughs and sneezes, and keep your child at home if you suspect they are sick.
The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Tell your child to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice during hand-washing.
“Additionally, help your child manage their stress, as this can affect their immune system,” said Albert.
Develop good homework and study habits
Good homework and study habits will help your child excel in school. Albert recommends creating a comfortable place in your house designated especially for homework.
Do not let your child do their homework on the couch or in their bed. Encourage your child to do their best and provide them with homework help if needed.
For more information about Family Care Center of Mooresville, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Albert, please call 704-360-6480.
About Iredell Health System
Iredell Health System includes Iredell Memorial Hospital; Iredell Mooresville; Iredell Home Health; Iredell Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center; Community and Corporate Wellness; Occupational Medicine; the Iredell Physician Network and more. Iredell Memorial Hospital is the largest and only nonprofit hospital in Iredell County. The comprehensive healthcare facility has 247 beds; more than 1,700 employees; and has 260 physicians representing various specialties. Centers of excellence include Women’s and Children’s; Cardiovascular; Cancer; Surgical Services and Wellness & Prevention. The Health System’s newest campus, Iredell Mooresville, is home to the area’s only 24-hour urgent care facility, as well as an ambulatory surgery center, imaging center, rehabilitation services, and physician practices. The mission of Iredell Health System is to inspire wellbeing. For a comprehensive list of services and programs, visit www.iredellhealth.org.