Back to School

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Will Winter, MD, FAAP

It's already August.  The hot summer days will soon be over and fall is right around the corner.  With it, another school year will begin!  Regardless of what grade your child is going into, whether he or she is starting school for the first time or starting a new school, certain things are universal and preparation is important.

-Shopping for school supplies.

The week or 2 before school starts is a perfect time to buy school supplies.  Although it may be early and your child may not yet know exactly which supplies will needed, it is a way for you, the parent, to start the year off on the right foot.  By investing your time and money in this special activity that “officially” happens once a year, you are showing your support and interest in your child’s life and academics. Having school supplies and setting them up, i.e. sharpening pencils, putting together binders, etc, is fun- and empowering.  By you and your child getting a “jump start” on the school year, it will help your child to feel ready and eager (as opposed to unprepared and apprehensive).

- Shopping for clothing.

Although we may have just passed the highest temperatures of summer, the fall clothing line is already in the stores near you!  Just as buying school supplies is a basic ritual, so too is investing your time, effort and money in buying fall clothing.  It is a good ritual for all of the same reasons as buying school supplies:

1.  Necessity- just as school supplies are an essential, so is clothing.  Soon the weather will become cooler and your child will need these.
2.  Learning responsibility- as your child becomes a participant in this process, he/she will learn to understand balancing what they want with cost.
3.  Shared activity.  As a parent, you are investing your money in this activity.  But, more importantly, you are investing your time.  Making this time and effort with your child is another important way of showing that you love him or her- and your child knows that.
4.  Empowerment.  Each of us cares about his/her appearance.  This is normal and healthy.  As your child will have gone shopping with you and you will have, together, picked some nice new outfits, your child may eagerly await the first day of school knowing that he/she will look their best on the first day of school.  This is empowering and will help to ease potential social anxiety.

The night before

The night before the first day of school is typically one filled with a unique combination of anxiety and excitement.  Although the summer was fun (hopefully) and the school year represents work, most kids tend to look forward to the first day with enthusiasm.

Regardless of the cause of elevated energy the night before, most kids tend to get less sleep before the first day of school.  Some will get one or 2 hours less.  Some may not sleep for most of the night.

As a parent, it is your job to make things as sleep friendly as possible.  In fact, the following suggestions may be useful throughout the year as well:

  1. No caffeine the day before the 1st day of school.  Stay away from caffeinated drinks, i.e. colas, coffee, tea, etc.  High sugar drinks without caffeine are also discouraged. 
  2. Meals should be balanced and given at appropriate times.
  3. Drinks- An hour before going to sleep, drinking fluids should be at a minimum to none.  Drinking too much before bedtime may result in waking up throughout the night to go to the bathroom.  Some lighter sleepers may find it difficult to return to sleep.  (Some younger children may also have increased likelihood of bedwetting with increased fluid intake prior to going to sleep).
  4. A bedtime should be discussed and implemented.  Ideally, this should be done well before the 1st day of school but should certainly be enforced the night before.  (It should also be continued throughout the school year).

Finally, if despite your best efforts as a parent, your child gets less sleep than usual, do not worry.  The excitement for the first day of school will propel him or her through the day.  And chances are excellent that on the night before the 2nd day of school, your sleep deprived child will catch up- and sleep like a baby!