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Tips for preparing to go back to school

Date: 8/6/2012

SPRINGFIELD — While most children look forward to returning to school and seeing many of their friends and favorite teachers again, not every youngster is happy about the waning days of summer and the impending new school year — especially those with a chronic illness to worry about or who might have been bullied the previous school year.

Overcoming anxiety

Anxiety on the first day of school isn't a rarity and can often be prevented, whether it's a kindergartener going to school for the first time, a freshman entering a new high school, or just all of the typical back-to-school worries such as new classes and teachers, making new friends and being-accepted, getting used to a new schedule, and more.

"The best thing a parent can do is to remain positive and support their child. Find out their concerns, dispel or explain any misunderstandings, and provide reassurance. Let them know how proud you are and that you are there for them," pediatrician Dr. Matthew Sadof of Baystate Children's Hospital, said.

He noted some children can benefit from meeting their teacher and seeing their school beforehand.

For children with chronic illness, child well visits, and immunizations

"Parents can ease their child's fears about getting sick at school by assuring them they have created an 'action plan' and shared it with school officials, which is designed to help prevent any aggravations of their illness and spells out exactly what to do should an emergency situation arise," Sadof said, referring to such health action plans as those for asthma, food allergies, diabetes, seizures and other disorders.

An action plan is an individualized management plan developed in conjunction with the child's pediatrician that can be shared with the school nurse, teachers and other appropriate school officials. General information should be included in the plan such as emergency contact names and phone numbers, including contact names and phone numbers for your healthcare provider. The plan should also include disease specific information that, for example, for a child with diabetes would include the timing of meals and snacks, instructions on how to administer insulin, as well as blood sugar testing and other key information your pediatrician deems necessary.

Especially for younger children, you will also need to make a list to share with the school of medications that must be given to your child during the day. The school should also be made aware of any special diet restrictions your child is under.

Sadof reminded parents to schedule a visit with their child's pediatrician as early as possible, especially if they need an exam to enter school or participate in athletics.

"The doctor's office tends to be very busy with appointments as back-to-school arrives. It's also a good time to check with your child's pediatrician that all immunizations are up-to-date," Sadof said.

"Also, keep in mind kids in pre-school and elementary school need flu vaccines. In fact, all children six months and older need flu vaccines," he added.

From waking up to having a good breakfast

"As the first day of school nears, you will need to get your child's sleep schedules back on track after allowing them to stay up later and sleep longer in the morning," Sadof said.

To prepare for the big day, parents should start setting bedtimes earlier and earlier over a two-week period. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep affects a child's school performance. In general, school-aged children need anywhere between nine to 12 hours of sleep each night, he noted.

Also, in the hustle and bustle of the school year beginning, don't let your child leave home without a healthy breakfast.

"How many times have you heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It's true, especially for kids," Nancy Anderson RD, a clinical dietitian in Food and Nutrition Services at Baystate Medical Center, said.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating in the morning is essential for children's school performance and overall health. And, kids who eat

breakfast tend to do better at school and maintain a healthier weight and cholesterol.

When there's a bully in the schoolyard

"As we learn more and more about bullying, parents and educators are becoming increasingly concerned about aggressive behaviors, which not only have physical effects, but can take a toll on a child's emotional health forever," said Dr. Sadof.

One of the most important things a parent can do if their child is being bullied is to report the situation to a school leader. Parents should go in calmly with a list of the exact events and make sure to ask what the school is going to do to handle the problem. Ask school leaders about what they are doing to empower the bystanders — those children aware of the bullying, but who are not the victims themselves — to speak out in defense of a victim.

"Encouraging speaking up is an important effort schools can undertake to help change the culture around tolerating bullying," added Dr. Sadof.

For the parents

And, it's not just the kids who can become anxiety-filled as school begins. For example, packing up and leaving home for freshmen year at college can be a life-changing experience for many students, but it's also a bittersweet time for parents, Dr. Barry Sarvet, vice chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Medical Center, noted

Sometimes referred to as "empty nest syndrome," many parents experience a feeling of sadness and loss when one of their children comes of age and leaves home. And, if they are unprepared for this life-changing event, they may take it quite hard.

"In addition to coping with the loss of the daily presence of one's child, parents also find themselves re-evaluating their sense of identity, as well as contemplating their own mortality," Sarvet said.

The Baystate psychiatrist noted parents usually survive this difficult time without too much suffering, but in some cases may benefit from talking with a professional.

For more information on Baystate Children's Hospital, visit