With the start of school just days away for many students, parents are busy shopping for school supplies, new clothes and other essential items. Just as important as getting children equipped for the new school year is preparing them to succeed once school has begun, says Lynn Gardner, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine and associate director of Emory's Pediatric Residency Training Program. Dr. Gardner offer practical tips parents can use to make the new school year a much smoother one.
Dr. Gardner says it is especially important for parents of older children to outline their expectations before the school year begins. Rather than wait two or three months and matters at school begin to go awry, Dr. Gardner recommends that parents talk to their children now while there are no problems. Some of those expectations should include getting good grades, being on their best behavior, establishing a good attendance record, and communicating with parents and teachers when problems arise.
"Parents should talk to their children about their expectations and find out what the child's expectations and thoughts are for the upcoming year, as well as what goals they have for themselves," Dr. Gardner explains. "If children don't have any goals, they can at least start thinking of some. For a child to know what is expected of them up front can often influence how they perform. Yet as a parent if you've never set any expectations for them, they don't really know what you think and may be less likely to carry those things out."
Dr. Gardner says it's just as important for parents to talk to teachers as soon as school starts. This allows parents and teachers to establish a collaborative relationship, in that teachers know to contact them whenever there is an academic or behavioral problem. Doing this allows parents to intervene before things get out of control and the child is on the verge of failing his or her classes.
The following are other tips Dr. Gardner says parents can use to help children get off to a good start this school year:
- Make sure your preschool and kindergarten-age children have updated immunization shots before school begins. Doing so ensures they will be able to attend school on the first day.
- Be consistent in your reassurance about the school year. This is especially helpful for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Parents should remind their child that school will be fun and that either they or the school bus will pick the child up at a set time each day. Giving the child a special object, such as a hair bow or locket, may also prove comforting.
- Establish an after-school routine with older children. Children perform better when they know what their routine is once they arrive home from school each day.
- Get your child back on a consistent bed time schedule before school begins. Young children should be asleep every night by 9 p.m., and older ones should be in bed no later than 10 p.m. Children need the proper amount of rest to grow, think better, and function well at school.
- Bring facial tissue and hand sanitizer to school for your children. It minimizes the spread of germs and infection.
- Include and prepare healthy snacks for your child's lunches. Bananas, apples, oranges and grapes are wonderful, nutritious snacks. Cheese and milk are also staples children should have in their lunch box. Be careful, however, to stay away from processed meats, which are loaded with fat and sodium.
- Buy your child a new pair of shoes that fit well. It is better to invest in one good pair of shoes rather than two or three that are less expensive and less durable.
- Have your child's eyes checked and remember to schedule a physical exam.
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of water during the day. Water is not only good for her, but will also help her stay hydrated, especially in hot weather.