It’s almost September and that means a visit to Staples, stocking the fridge with lunch meats, and dealing with very tired kids. Some of you have been back to school going on a few weeks now, while others begin around Labor Day. The shift into the fall season for many kids can be a tough time—even if they’re eager to get back to school. And if the transition for them is tough, that means you’ll have your hands full. Crabby, overtired kids means stressed parents.
I’ve been through the shift many times as a mother, and I’ve watched it in thousands of patients over the years. Here are a few things that I have learned help make life a little easier during this time
1. One more hour matters
Studies have shown that when kids get even one more hour of sleep per night, they concentrate and perform better at school. It may not seem like much to an adult, but to a growing child, sixty extra minutes of snooze time helps make them less irritable and it makes teachers (and you) happier, too.
So, move their bedtime an hour back. If this is too tough to do all at once, then start with fifteen minutes, then half an hour, and then one hour.
2. Rework bedtime
Many children have difficulty falling asleep at night—especially at the beginning of a school year. They are so used to being active up until bedtime that they have a hard time winding down. If you implement good sleep hygiene, they will fall asleep much more easily.
Make sure they stop watching television, playing video games, or being visually stimulated one hour before bedtime. If they want a snack, make sure it is at least half hour before bedtime and make it light—no heavy foods. They can listen to soothing music or a book on tape (one that is a bit slow moving) to help them wind down. One that is particularly good for kids is the Adventures in Odyssey Golden Audio Series.
3. Make electronics rules clear for everyone
Most kids can’t adequately discipline themselves regarding electronic gadgetry use. In my experience, most kids (even teens) want help learning to “turn off” stuff but won’t say this. So, begin by making house rules that all electronics stay off from 10-7 am.
Remember, many kids chat or text one another at night, and this keeps your kids up. If some can’t sleep, they will turn on the Internet to watch a show, play a game, etc. You may even need to have all electronics left in the kitchen for the night. Offer to put your cell phone in the kitchen, too. You may start with every other night and move to every night to make the transition more gradual. This is extremely important for kids who have difficulty concentrating on the school work.
4. Don’t skip breakfast
Many parents (and kids) downplay the importance of the morning meal, but studies show that it makes a big difference in a child’s performance. So, make sure your kids eat a good meal. If they have to get up really early, you can make something the night before and zap it in the morning.
For kids who hate breakfast, drinking breakfast can be a good way to get some calories in. Make smoothies with yogurt, protein powder, and some fruit and they can drink it on the way to school. Even an instant breakfast drink mix is better than no food at all.
5. Make weekends fun
Many kids look forward to getting back to school, but others dread it. They grieve leaving the easy, carefree schedule of summer and lose their enthusiasm for life. So, plan small outings on the weekend in order to give them something to look forward to.
You many plan to go to a movie, go to a beach, or go on a bike ride. The important thing is to give them a slice of “summer life” back to help them ease away from it.
6. Be patient
Many kids take about six weeks to get back into the rhythm of school, so be patient. Children starting kindergarten take longer, and many parents hit mid-October wondering what happened to their lovely, easy-going child.
The kindergarten year is particularly tough for kids, and they need extra sleep (even an afternoon nap) in order to get back on their feet. If you find that you have a little monster on your hands later in the fall, remember that your kindergartner could be particularly tired from working hard to behave, focus on school, and make new friends.
Dr. Meeker is a pediatrician, who has practiced pediatric and adolescent medicine for 25 years. She is the author of six books including the best-selling Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: Ten Secrets Every Father Should Know; Boys Should Be Boys; Your Kids At Risk;, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose and Sanity; Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: The 30 Day Challenge and Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men,
(Ballantine) April 2014. She is a popular speaker on pediatric health issues and child-parent relationships. Dr. Meeker is co-host and physician-residence of Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk Radio. She is also Assistant Clinical Professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and currently teaches medical students and physicians in residency training. She is board certified with the American Board of Pediatrics and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Meeker serves on the National Advisory Board of the Medical Institute. She has been married to her husband, Walter for 32 years. They have shared a medical practice for over 20 years. They have three grown daughters and a grown son. She lives in northern Michigan.