Back-to-school time is a big transition for kids and parents. Many families have been excited to return to in-person learning and are wondering what this school year will bring.
Dr. Cicely White, the newly appointed chief of pediatrics for Kaiser Permanente Washington, which includes Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington, and recent Seattle Met Top Doctor honorees Dr. Annie Hoopes, Sofya Kefely, and Dr. Gina Sucato sat down to answer the question on everyone’s mind: What do we do now?
Get a checkup
A lot of families have skipped regular wellness care during the pandemic. “If it’s been more than a year or two since your child’s last wellness exam, I’d highly encourage you to come in,” says Dr. White. Wellness exams generally include hearing and visual screening, and any additional care kids might need, including immunizations, can be discussed. Flu season is near, so now is the time for a flu shot. If your child is eligible for the COVID vaccine, ask your doctor about getting one of those, too.
Dr. Sucato recommends taking advantage of school-based health centers if your school has one. Teens can get routine medical care, including mental health care, during the school day. “Remind your kids that it’s OK to ask for help,” she says. “People working at schools genuinely care about kids and want to help them succeed.”
Focus on the positive
Anxiety is normal, given the situation. But Dr. Hoopes suggests reframing how we imagine the school year in a positive way. “I encourage teens and their families to think about the upcoming school year as full of new opportunities,” she says. “Who might you meet? Who might you become?” Focus on your child’s strengths and be their biggest fan to help them thrive.
Try new things
With so much focus on safety during the pandemic, it’s important to remember that kids, particularly teens, need to be able to take risks in a healthy way. It’s an essential part of forming their identities, says Dr. Hoopes: “They need that experience, whether it’s through the performing arts, athletics, or trying out a new activity or a new friendship.”
Talk it out
“It’s really important to talk to kids of all ages about how they’re feeling on a regular basis,” says Kefely. This helps you understand your child’s behavior and what’s normal for them, so it’s easier to spot if something seems off. And don’t hesitate to seek out any available support, such as school counselors.
Do a dress rehearsal
Practice some trial runs for your school day. Time the walk to the bus stop. Plan out breakfast and lunch. Pick out an outfit. Thinking about these details in advance will save time and stress. And if schools are doing remote learning, keep up the routine as much as you can — the structure will help everyone.
Embrace what’s normal
With so much still up in the air, it’s helpful to focus on what you can control. “Really emphasize the things that are in your control,” says Dr. White. “Involve your kids in picking out what they need, like new backpacks and school supplies. Working together will help everyone feel excited about the new school year.”
Eat your fruits and veggies
“Good nutrition is really important, particularly in times of stress,” says Kefely. A whole foods diet, including plenty of vegetables and fruits, goes a long way toward keeping kids healthy, happy, and ready to tackle whatever comes their way.
Studies have shown a connection between the hours of sleep a child gets and their ability to focus in school. “Getting back to a consistent sleep schedule is a great way to be prepared for this school year,” says Dr. White. Stick to a regular, calming bedtime routine.
Whether you’re playing a sport, taking a walk, or dancing in your kitchen, moving your body is great for lifting your mood. “The key is joyful movement, whatever that means to you,” says Dr. Hoopes.
Be kind to yourself
Finally, the most important tip of all: Show yourself some grace. It’s been a hard time, but there are many people cheering on your family as you move into a new school year.
Cicely White, MD, Chief of Pediatrics
Seattle Met Top Doctor honorees:
Annie Hoopes, MD, Adolescent Medicine
Sofya Kefely, PA-C, Pediatrics
Gina Sucato, MD, Adolescent Medicine