Pencils are sharpened, name tags are fixed, books are bought that are pristine white and clean – it’s that time of year again where children go back to school or have already gone back to school after a long summer break. Parents rack their brains to organize car pool schedules and a child’s allergy list for the school nurse. It’s a particularly stressful time for parents as they have to coax children back into a routine after playing merry during summer while ensuring all school demands are met.
Dr. Ahed Bisharat, Consultant in General Pediatrics and Head of the Department at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, gives parents comprehensive tips on how to ensure the transition is a smooth one:
Immunization: Almost all schools will not admit a child who does not have an immunization records. Visit your family GP at least a month before school starts to ensure there is no allergy reaction to the vaccines. Check with the school nurse on what vaccines are required. The common ones are Hepatitis, Polio and Chicken Pox.
Eye tests: 1 in 20 children can’t see out of one of their eyes. Vision testing by your pediatrician is a good way to determine if your child has an eye problem and needs to be referred to a specialist. A child who cannot see clearly cannot perform well at school.
Accurate information: Always make sure your child’s emergency telephone numbers list is up to date. The numbers that should be listed include the mother’s, father’s, immediate relative’s and whoever else the parents have designated. It is a good idea to list the child’s physician and dentist. Give the school nurse all details of the medication your child is taking and make sure any health problems is made known to the school. Also inform the school of any physical restrictions – does your child have asthma, a scoliosis brace or a heart murmur? Will these have an impact on physical activity?
Adequate sleep: A week before school is scheduled to start, get your child to begin a bedtime and wake up schedule that mirrors their impending routine. This is important to not only institute a system but also to ensure youngsters get the recommended hours of sleep. For preschool children the recommended amount of sleep is 16-18 hours a day and from primary school onwards between 10 to 12 hours.
Backpack safety: A heavy backpack that puts too much pressure on a child’s shoulders is a big no-no as it may hamper proper growth. Instead choose a backpack with padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Pack light and make sure to spread the weight between the different compartments. Make sure that the heavier items are closest to the center of the back.
Address anxiety: Not everyone is excited to start school. While some kids pack their new books a month ahead, others battle anxiety. They are anxious because of a previous bullying incident or because of separation anxiety. Sometimes, this anxiety can also be due to an undiagnosed mental issue. Consult a pediatrician to rule out whether the anxiety was caused by a physical condition. If there are no physical issues, refer a mental health specialist like a psychiatrist or therapist. Mental wellbeing is as important as physical health.
Healthy Lunches: Use the summer months to develop a healthy menu for your child. School canteens usually stock unhealthy options like crisps and soft drinks – remember one 12 ounce can of soft drink contains approximate 10 teaspoons of sugar and drinking just one can increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60%. Create healthy lunches including lots of fruits, nuts and low fat dairy products. Also child-proof healthy foods - strawberries dipped in a little chocolate hazelnut spread or banana covered with low fat peanut butter tastes better and is appealing to a child. Also look into your child’s canteen options – if it is not stocked with healthy, talk to the school’s management about adopting clean eating.
Structure: As the proverbial saying goes, an idle mind is a Devil’s workshop. Similarly structure in a child’s life will act as a deterrent in developing bad habits. Before school starts, sit down with your children and draw up a timetable – when and where homework will be done and allocate time for watching TV or riding a bike. Take into consideration after school activities and make time for extracurricular programs like sports lessons and extra classes.